Disaster Preparation: Shelter in Place

The best response is prepared beforehand.

In case of an emergency that requires staying put, your ministry should be prepared to give instructions on how to shelter in place.

Shelter in place is a short-term response to a disaster that requires those affected to take immediate refuge in a readily accessible location. It may be issued by local authorities or the church itself during situations where the safest course of action is to stay indoors to avoid an outside threat.

These situations include:

  • Severe weather
  • Hazardous exposure
  • Dangerous persons

As you develop your plan, share this information with leaders, employees, and volunteers so they will be prepared to respond when the church is almost empty, and on a bustling Sunday morning.

How Long Will It Last?

Some emergencies, like tornadoes, may only require you to shelter in place for a short period of time. Others might possibly last for hours, and in the worst-case scenario, for several days. In extreme cases, sheltering in place could include additional measures, such as turning off HVAC systems and sealing windows and doors to prevent air contamination.

If a shelter-in-place is called by local authorities, it will be communicated over newscasts, radio, or online media. Keep battery-operated weather radios handy and know the phone numbers for your local law enforcement and emergency contacts in case the situation involves a power outage.

Before It Happens

Once the call for a shelter-in-place goes out, outside help may not be readily available. Preparing ahead of time can help ensure adequate shelter and supplies are in place and reduce panic.

To begin planning, make a list of possible shelter in place situations. Then formulate responses that deal with the unique risks posed by each event. Your responses should address:

  • Type of emergency: How would your response differ with a weather emergency compared to a threatening person? 
  • Communication: How will you inform parents that their children are being kept for a shelter in place? How will you reunite families after the danger has passed?
  • Number of people present on ministry property: How would you direct and accommodate a full Sunday congregation. How would that plan change with a small Wednesday night Bible study?
  • Location at time of emergency: Who will move to another part of the building, and who will stay where they are? Is there a plan for each location on your campus?
  • Supplies: What items might you need? Where are they stored?

Next, train leaders, employees, and volunteers on how to respond in case of an emergency. People will naturally look to them in a crisis.

Finally, remember that you can contact local emergency response agencies, such as the American Red Cross, to find out what they recommend adding to your shelter-in-place plan.

Make Your Move

As soon as an emergency requiring shelter is identified, direct people to move into place. If there is a storm, instruct everyone to stay away from windows and glass doors. It is also important to protect your ministry's structure. Close and lock all doors and windows, fortifying them with boards or plastic if needed. Also, shut off any power or heating and cooling systems, if the situation calls for it.

The best location to shelter is inside a building with a foundation. Trailers and vehicles should be avoided anytime better shelter is available.

Build a Kit

Create an emergency kit and assess your supplies on a regular basis and replace as needed. Some supplies to include in your emergency kit are:

  • First-aid kit
  • Dust masks
  • Megaphone/Walkie talkies
  • Flashlights
  • Battery-powered radio
  • Water
  • Non-perishable food 
  • Blankets
  • Duct tape and plastic

If you’re sheltering with children, toys can help keep them calm. Also, consider what people with disabilities might need to shelter for a longer period of time. If they must sit on the ground, have pillows or mats available to keep them comfortable, and offer them a buddy to lean on or to help retrieve supplies.

Check your supplies on a regular basis to make sure they are still there and that water or non-perishable food items are still fresh.

Additional Resources

Emergencies can be unpredictable, but putting a plan in place before danger arrives will help keep people safe and calm.

For more information on how to prepare for a shelter-in-place situation, contact local authorities or visit these websites.