Shelter-in-place is an emergency response tool to protect students in the event of potential exposure to a dangerous chemical in the atmosphere.
If a dangerous chemical were released in the community and posed a threat to students during the school day, affected schools would be directed, most likely by public health or safety officials, to bring all students and staff members indoors; to shut down all heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems; and to close and secure all doors and windows. The neutral atmospheric pressure created by these actions would create a barrier and help keep chemical agents from leaking into the building.
This approach has proven to be safe -- much safer than evacuating students into a contaminated outdoor environment. In fact, no person protected by a shelter-in-place procedure has died as a result of any of the 35 major chemical accidents in this country over the last 20 years.
During a shelter-in-place incident, public safety officials will secure the affected school building(s), and no people will be allowed in or out of the building(s) until an all-clear signal is given. While students are protected in the school building, parents will be sheltered in their own homes or places of work. The school district will make every effort to communicate the status of students to parents and the community. All emergency-messaging systems will be used.
Shelter-in-place is the safest possible way to separate students and staff members from an outdoor hazardous environment. It is a temporary solution to a temporary problem. Shelter-in-place will be used when needed, not to keep students from parents, but to keep them safe until their parents can safely reach them.
Once the contaminated air has passed, public safety officials would evaluate the situation. At that time, they will either give the school clearance to resume safe and normal operations or request that the school is evacuated for cleanup operations. In the case of an evacuation, students will be safely transported by bus to a designated parent/student reunification center or will be released to parents at the school site designated command post.
If a staff member or child shows obvious symptoms of exposure to a contaminant, staff members on hand would conduct basic decontamination. The affected individuals will be separated and washed with soap and water. If possible, they will shower and be given alternative clothing. The exposed clothing will be put in plastic bags. Removing a contaminated person’s clothing effectively removes in excess of 80 percent of contaminates from the person, reducing the chance that the person will suffer pain and serious injury.
Shelter-in-place is a short-term measure (minutes or hours, not days) designed to use a facility and its indoor atmosphere to temporarily separate people from a hazardous outdoor environment. The alternative would be to evacuate into a hazardous situation thereby causing harm to all involved. There is no stockpiling of water and food stuffs needed. Shelter-in-place is ended as soon as the outdoor air is safe for students (and parents) to breathe.