On Thursday, May 5, 2016 a large fire broke out in Houston, Texas.  Multiple businesses were impacted, hazardous materials were involved, and people in the area were told to shelter-in-place.  An elementary school was also evacuated.  From a Business Continuity perspective, this incident required almost every component of contingency planning to be activated: alternate facilities, notification procedures, and operational recovery – to name a few.  This article will focus on an area that is often overlooked in the planning process – sheltering in place.

There are many situations where the safest place is inside the building you are in (ie: shelter-in-place):

  • Hazardous material incident like in Houston
  • Tornados, hurricanes or other extreme weather conditions
  • Active shooters in the area
  • Facility fire where evacuation is not possible

Each of the above threats have different requirements for the shelter area (safe zone).  For a tornado you want to be low to the ground floor or in a basement, but for a hurricane or extreme flooding you want to be above the highest water levels.  However, regardless of the situation, the following recommendations should be considering when creating internal shelter areas:

  1. Each floor in the building should have at least one (1) designated area – preferably more
  2. Areas should be located toward the interior of the building or in a hardened area such as an emergency stairwell
  3. Avoid areas with glass window, natural gas outlets, or high voltage electricity as these may become damaged and create an additional hazard
  4. Pre-stored supplies should include:
  5. First Aid Kits
  6. Drinking Water
  7. Blankets
  8. Flashlights (or glow sticks)
  9. Whistle
  10. 2-way radio (CB or one with the facility’s security frequency)
  11. Breathing masks to filter dust
  12. Have a different alarm for shelter-in-place that the fire evacuation alarm
  13. Have shelter-in-place drills as well as fire evacuation drills
  14. Each shelter area should be clearly marked

When responding to a dangerous situation, health and safety are your highest priority.  But once the danger is passed, companies need to have plans for what needs to happen next.  If you wait until the disaster, it is too late.  You will suffer significant financial hardship and potential closure.  Only by planning ahead will you be able to efficiently recover.  If you already have plans you are encouraged to put them through a tabletop exercise using the Houston Fire as a scenario.  If you need help developing or improving your plans, give Tech Valley Continuity a call at 518-596-9313 or visit

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