Shelter in Place

What to do when a critical event occurs.

Posted Jan 08, 2020

The frequency and intensity of violent storms seem to be increasing. With a tornado, little can be done perhaps other than sheltering in place. With hurricanes, many people heed evacuation orders rather than stay in their homes, hoping for the best. Sheltering in place is also the order that is often given when there is a toxic spill.

This post and the next will focus on situations in which sheltering in place may be the best option. The scenarios presented are from a serious game, Bounce Back, which we have been using over the years to teach the skills and attitudes of resilience.

Here's a scenario:

An emergency notification was sent to my cell phone. A truck carrying toxic chemicals is overturned not far from my home. I'm following instructions to shelter in place. A very strong odor is coming from the bathroom. It's awful. I feel sick. But what am I supposed to do? Is it not safe to open the windows?

Whether you shelter in place and obey the instructions given to you by the authorities has a great deal to do with whether you trust that they know what they're doing. In many cases, such as the one described above, the authorities are doing what they've been trained to do and what they think is the safest option. In these situations, I think it is important to use every means that you can to connect with others and find out what they are doing and what they are telling you to do.

In order to do this, you will have to control the strong feelings that such a directive has created in you. Problem-solve this situation. Is your only option opening the windows or going outside? What else could you do?

Listen to the radio. Listen for official announcements and instructions. Use social media, but be cautious. Sometimes the information provided is not accurate. Don't overreact or panic. Call someone else in your neighborhood whom you trust. What are they doing and what have they been told to do? Calm down and think.