The most disturbing thing for most people during a SIP emergency is the feeling that they are personally powerless and dependent on others for their safety. Over the last few years, a number of supplemental technologies that can help to alleviate this feeling have become more widely available. They may make sense for certain companies.
For example, individual protective items restore to employees the sense that they have some personal control over their situation. Effective smoke escape masks and goggles are available for under $50; they have shelf lives of up to five years. Employees at companies that have issued such equipment frequently cite their mask as tangible evidence that their company cares about them personally and is actively working to keep them safe in an emergency response situation.
Also, a new generation of air purifiers is now hitting the commercial market. University testing indicates that some systems can rapidly destroy (not simply filter) avian flu and other biological contaminants and also eliminate harmful gases. These systems come in both portable and duct-mounted configurations and have been shown to maintain the quality of the air in shelters over extended periods of occupation.
In the final analysis, however, maintaining employee confidence when they are sheltering in place during an emergency comes down to communication. The interactive training and planning process serves to stimulate two-way communication and results in more comprehensive plans that actually work. Ultimately, by placing confidence in employees during the development of the plan, a company enhances not only the SIP program but also employee confidence in sheltering in place, and in the company as a whole.
Barriers to Successful Sheltering-in-Place
Sheltering-in-place is not a natural reaction for many people during times of stress. When the fight or flight reflex kicks in, they are reluctant to place their safety in the hands of others.
That natural reaction is reinforced by past events. For example, images of 9-11 remain fresh in people’s minds. They remember that the occupants of the World Trade Center were first told not to evacuate, and those that heeded that advice may not have had time to escape the buildings’ collapse. Employees ask how the planner can be sure that they will be safe in their shelter.
Another factor is the desire to get to loved ones. Employees will have a strong instinct to leave so that they can locate and protect their family and friends.
These are just a few examples of the motivations people may have to leave the shelter, even though they may be placing themselves, and worse, their fellow employees, at risk by doing so. Each of these motivations to leave during a SIP emergency can be very powerful. By involving employees in the planning process, management can reduce the percentage of people who will act on these motivations.
In 2004, a survey of employees in a New York City high rise prior to SIP training revealed that over 60 percent of them intended to leave the building at the first sign of trouble. After SIP training and participation in the shelter-level SIP planning process, the number of employees who stated that they intended to leave was reduced to less than 15 percent, and that percentage has dropped further as employees undergo each round of refresher training.
Shelter-in-place (SIP) plans can help protect employees during various emergencies. To prepare, managers must analyze needs, designate safe shelter areas, stock supplies, and prepare employees.
The facility level of the SIP plan addresses actions and procedures that provide for the safety of the facility as a whole. Based on risk assessment, the planner determines the number and location of shelters, as well as backup sites. Planners should prepare policies for those who insist on leaving the facility. Controlled-exit routes should be selected to prevent backflow of an airborne hazard, and controlled entry routes should be planned for employees caught outside. Shelter-level plans cover issues such as communication of the SIP alert, who is responsible for management in the business unit, and how people will proceed to shelters. Availability of supplies should be addressed, as well as access to restrooms, telephones, and other utilities. During SIP emergencies, communications must be maintained between the facility emergency operations center and each shelter, and employees should be able to communicate with their families if possible.
Employees should receive basic SIP training and participate in drills. Further training must be provided for shelter supervisors and shelter wardens, their deputies, and their teams.
Major James D. Lee, P.E., ret., is a 1982 graduate of West Point and served in the Army’s Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Defense Corps. He has a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Virginia and has served on the faculty at West Point. Since 1998 he has consulted in the private sector, specializing in CBRN vulnerability reduction.