Shelter in Place

Shelter in place refers to a safety measure where building occupants remain inside rather than evacuating. This is sometimes the best approach to take if there is an exterior hazard such as a weather emergency or hazardous contaminant in the air. In this type of emergency, building occupants will be advised of the risks outside and asked to remain indoors. Shelter in place is included in the Emergency Response Plan and the Office of Residence Life staff is familiar with the procedure.

During a shelter in place event, you will be given instructions via BU Alert. BU Alert should be monitored carefully to determine when the hazard has passed and it is safe to exit the building. More detailed procedures for evacuations and shelter in place may be found on this web page under the heading “Evacuation.”

Shelter in place means selecting a small, interior room, with no or few windows, and taking refuge there. It does not mean sealing off your entire home or office building. If you are told to shelter in place, follow the instructions provided here, which we have formulated from the American Red Cross.

Why You Might Need to Shelter in Place: Chemical, biological, or radiological contaminants may be released accidentally or intentionally into the environment. Should this occur, information will be provided by local authorities on television and radio stations on how to protect you and your family.

Because information will most likely be provided on television and radio, it is important to keep a TV or radio on, even during the workday. The important thing is for you to follow instructions of University and/or local authorities and know what to do if they advise you to shelter in place.

Local officials on the scene are the best source of information for your particular situation. Following their instructions during and after emergencies regarding sheltering, food, water, and cleanup methods is your safest choice.

Remember that instructions to shelter in place are usually provided for durations of a few hours, not days or weeks. There is little danger that the room in which you are taking shelter will run out of oxygen and you will suffocate.


If a shelter in place order is given while you’re at school, there are some actions that you should take, which will be different based on your role. As a professor with a class in session, you may be asked to provide leadership in moving students to an interior location and communicating your situation to the administration. As a student, you may be asked to assist the professor and administration with implementing the shelter in place order and following instructions. Here are some important things to remember once a shelter in place order has been given:

  • Follow reverse evacuation procedures to bring students, faculty, and staff indoors.
  • If there are visitors in the building, provide for their safety by asking them to stay—not leave. When authorities provide directions to shelter in place, they want everyone to take those steps now, where they are, and not drive or walk outdoors.
  • If students have cell phones, allow them to use them to call a parent or guardian to let them know that they have been asked to remain in school until further notice, and that they are safe.
  • Close and lock all windows, exterior doors, and any other openings to the outside.
  • If you are told there is danger of explosion, direct that window shades, blinds, or curtains be closed.
  • Have employees familiar with your building’s mechanical systems turn off all fans and heating and air conditioning systems. Some systems automatically provide for exchange of inside air with outside air—these systems, in particular, need to be turned off, sealed, or disabled.
  • Select interior room(s) above the ground floor, with the fewest windows or vents. The room(s) should have adequate space for everyone to be able to sit in. Avoid overcrowding by selecting several rooms if necessary. Classrooms may be used if there are no windows or the windows are sealed and cannot be opened. Large storage closets, utility rooms, meeting rooms, and even a gymnasium without exterior windows will also work well.
  • It is ideal to have a hard-wired telephone in the room(s) you select. Call emergency contacts and have the phone available if you need to report a life-threatening condition. Cellular telephone equipment may be overwhelmed or damaged during an emergency.
  • Bring everyone into the room. Shut and lock the door.
  • Write down the names of everyone in the room, and call your school’s designated emergency contact to report who is in the room with you.
  • Listen for an official announcement from school officials via the public address system, and stay where you are until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate. Local officials may call for evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in your community.


At work may mean different things to different people. You might be a member of the University’s staff or a Work-Study student in one of our many offices. Or you might be working in one of the many businesses around the campus. Even if you work far from Boston University or Boston Medical Center, there are some common actions you should take when a shelter in place order is given.

  • Close the office, operation, or business.
  • Bring everyone into the room(s). Shut and lock the door(s).
  • If there are students, staff, customers, clients, or visitors in the building, provide for their safety by asking them to stay—not leave. When authorities provide directions to shelter in place, they want everyone to take those steps now, where they are, and not drive or walk outdoors.
  • Unless there is an imminent threat, ask employees, customers, clients, and visitors to call their emergency contact to let them know where they are and that they are safe.
  • Turn on call-forwarding or alternative telephone answering systems or services. If the business has voice mail or an automated attendant, change the recording to indicate that the business is closed, and that staff and visitors are remaining in the building until authorities advise it is safe to leave.
  • Close and lock all windows, exterior doors, and any other openings to the outside.
  • If you are told there is danger of explosion, close the window shades, blinds, or curtains.
  • Have employees familiar with your building’s mechanical systems turn off all fans and heating and air conditioning systems. Some systems automatically provide for exchange of inside air with outside air—these systems, in particular, need to be turned off, sealed, or disabled.
  • Gather essential disaster supplies, such as nonperishable food, bottled water, battery-powered radios, first aid supplies, flashlights, batteries, duct tape, plastic sheeting, and plastic garbage bags.
  • Select interior room(s) above the ground floor, with the fewest windows or vents. The room(s) should have adequate space for everyone to be able to sit in. Avoid overcrowding by selecting several rooms if necessary. Large storage closets, utility rooms, pantries, and copy and conference rooms without exterior windows will work well. Avoid selecting a room with mechanical equipment like ventilation blowers or pipes, because this equipment may not be able to be sealed from the outdoors.
  • It is ideal to have a hard-wired telephone in the room(s) you select. Call emergency contacts and have the phone available if you need to report a life-threatening condition. Cellular telephone equipment may be overwhelmed or damaged during an emergency.
  • Use duct tape and plastic sheeting (heavier than food wrap) to seal all cracks around the door(s) and any vents into the room.
  • Write down the names of everyone in the room, and call the University’s Command Center (or your business’ designated emergency contact) to report who is in the room with you, and their affiliation with your business (employee, visitor, client, customer).
  • Keep listening to the radio or television until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate. Local officials may call for evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in your community.


If you are driving a vehicle and hear advice to “shelter in place” on the radio, take these steps:

  • If you are very close to home, your office, or a public building, go there immediately and go inside. Follow the shelter in place recommendations for the place you pick described above.
  • If you are unable to get to a home or office or building quickly and safely, then pull over to the side of the road. Stop your vehicle in the safest place possible. If it is sunny outside, it is preferable to stop under a bridge or in a shady spot, to avoid being overheated.
  • Turn off the engine.
  • Close windows and vents.
  • If possible, seal the heating/air conditioning vents with duct tape.
  • Listen to the radio regularly for updated advice and instructions.
  • Stay where you are until you are told it is safe to get back on the road. Be aware that some roads may be closed or traffic detoured. Follow the directions of law enforcement officials.

  • Close and lock all windows and exterior doors.
  • If you are told there is danger of explosion, close the window shades, blinds, or curtains.
  • Turn off all fans and heating and air conditioning systems. • Close the fireplace damper.
  • Get your family disaster supplies kit and make sure the radio is working.
  • Go to an interior room without windows that’s above ground level. In the case of a chemical threat, an above-ground location is preferable because some chemicals are heavier than air, and may seep into basements even if the windows are closed.
  • Bring your pets with you, and be sure to bring additional food and water supplies for them.
  • It is ideal to have a hard-wired telephone in the room you select. Call your emergency contact and have the phone available if you need to report a life-threatening condition. Cellular telephone equipment may be overwhelmed or damaged during an emergency.
  • Use duct tape and plastic sheeting (heavier than food wrap) to seal all cracks around the door and any vents into the room.
  • Keep listening to your radio or television until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate. Local officials may call for evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in your community.