In an emergency alert, what is the difference between a Shelter in Place and a Lockdown?
If you have heard the terms "Shelter in Place" and "Lockdown" and been confused as to what the difference is, don't worry, you are not alone. The distinction is not necessarily intuitive, but it is important. The key thing to remember is that both are instructions to put effective barriers between you and a threat. The difference is in the types of threats and what kind of barrier is called for.
A shelter in place is the use of a structure and its indoor atmosphere to temporarily separate you from a hazardous outdoor atmosphere. This can be because of a hazardous material incident or a weather-related emergency. It entails closing all doors, windows, and vents and taking immediate shelter in a readily accessible location.
A lockdown may be instructed during situations such as a hostile or armed intruder inside a building. A lockdown requires locking doors and windows and barricading oneself to block entry to a facility or to an office suite.
For more information on what to do after receiving instructions to shelter in place or to lockdown, please see the information below, or download our printable Shelter in Place vs. Lockdown handout.
Shelter in Place
A shelter in place is the use of a structure and its indoor atmosphere to temporarily separate individuals from a hazardous outdoor atmosphere. This can be because of a hazardous material incident or a weather-related emergency. It entails closing all household doors, windows, and vents and taking immediate shelter in a readily accessible location, such as a basement or central medium to a small room, and, in the case of a hazardous material incident, trying to make it as airtight as possible by shutting off all ventilation/HVAC systems and extensively sealing the shelter's doors and windows from all outside air contaminants with damp towels, or if available, plastic sheeting and adhesive tape. Diagrams of what sheltering in place entail following a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear threat and how long it is advised to be done are provided by the FEMA-affiliated website ready.gov.
Shelter-in-place effectiveness has been evaluated, and experimental results show that proper sealing can make a substantial difference to a normal shelter, finding it to be at least twice as effective against a host of airborne substances when compared to simply staying inside and not implementing the countermeasure, and in most airborne contaminant cases, it is usually much more effective, depending on the particle size of the substance in question.
In practice, depending on the exact situation, everyone within a specific distance of the airborne incident may be ordered to shelter in place, or people within a closer range may be ordered to evacuate while everyone else shelters in place to minimize public exposure as much as possible. Sheltering in place is generally only used for a short period of time, typically a few hours.
The phrase has also erroneously been used, instead of the more accurate lockdown, to describe precautions to be taken by the public when violence has occurred or might occur (particularly in shootings) in the area, and the perpetrator is believed to still be in the area but not apprehended. The public in the area is advised to carry out all the same tasks as a typical shelter-in-place but without the key step of sealing the shelter up to prevent outside air from circulating indoors. In this scenario, people are urged to lockdown - stay indoors and "close, lock and stay away from external doors and windows.
A lockdown may be instructed during situations such as the presence of a hostile or armed intruder inside a building. A lockdown requires locking doors and windows and barricading oneself to block entry to a campus facility, a classroom, or to an office suite. The term lockdown is often confused with "Shelter in Place."
Due to the varying levels of construction and architectural design of the buildings on campus, one classroom or office may provide more or less security than another. Interior walls built using steel, concrete, or brick will provide more cover than ones built using sheetrock. Solid core doors provide more concealment and protection than ones that are hollow or ones with windows. Inward-opening doors can be barricaded to prevent intrusion, whereas outward-opening doors cannot.
Lock and barricade the door. Whether the door has a lock or not and the door opens in, a good heavy door wedge can be kept on hand and driven in as hard as you can, then use all available heavy and large items in the room to barricade the door if you are unable to immediately and safely escape, then lockdown in the nearest safe classroom or office and deny the assailant access.
Move to an area out of the field of fire should shooting through the door occur. A single desk or chair will likely not prevent the penetration of most bullets. However, several strategically stacked tables, desks, and chairs may lessen the velocity of a bullet, thereby lessening the potential for serious injury.
Make the room as dark as possible; remain calm and be as quiet as possible. Silence all electronic devices that may alert the assailant of your location.
Do not open the door for anyone except for identifiable Law Enforcement personnel.
Depending on the assailant's location, consideration may also be made to escape through window openings. Have someone watch as you get as many people out of the windows as calmly and as quietly as possible. It is not recommended to escape through windows above the second floor; even jumping from second-floor window heights may cause serious injury.
While in lockdown, if there are injured persons, treat their wounds. Remember basic first aid concepts. If a first aid kit or bandages are unavailable, then improvise by using any available resources within the room.
Formulate a plan of action with the people in the room should the assailant breach the door and enter. You may need to counter the assailant's actions and defend yourself. Locate any available objects that may be used as diversionary devices or weapons.