What makes a good emergency shelter?

25 Sep 2017

Health & Safety


It is now best-practice for UK companies to employ shelter-in-place procedures within the buildings they operate in order to protect people in the event of a major external incident.  Companies need to plan for emergencies; quick and effective action will help in an emergency scenario and may reduce the consequences.

Shelter-in-place (also referred to as ‘invacuation’ or ‘lockdown’) is a controlled hiding procedure to help protect employees, visitors and customers from dangerous incidents, including violent individuals, coordinated attacks, explosions, riots, structural damage or natural disasters.

So what makes a good location for a shelter and how can we alter and improve such rooms to act as effective shelters?

1 - Secure

Emergency shelters must have a secure door, preferably with magnetic locks with either key code or security card access. From the inside, doors should have a thumb lock to allow for manual locking. Fire doors with intumescent strips should be installed at every entrance to the shelter to prevent the spread of fire and smoke. Consider possible ways to barricade doors for additional security using available furniture such as tables, chairs, cabinets etc..

2 - Size

Shelters should be appropriately sized to accommodate the maximum number of occupants at any one time. If one room does not provide enough space for the anticipated number of occupants, consider using multiple shelters - although this requires extra planning and coordination. 

3 - Windowless

An appropriate shelter-in-place should be an interior room with no windows. This prevents a potential attacker from being able to see into the room and confirm the presence of occupants. Where shelter rooms have doors with windows (likely high usage doors with window panes in line with HSE guidance), provide a way to block or cover the window. Advise staff to stay away from glass in case of shattering. 

4 - Multiple Exits

Two or more exits are strongly advised, giving occupants multiple options in case of evacuation; however, in a retail environment this may not always be possible. If this is the case, strategically place your shelter as close as possible to an emergency exit leading directly out of the building.

5 - Communications

In an emergency mobile phone networks may become overwhelmed with the number of calls to emergency services and mobile signals may be weak in back-of-house areas or basements. Landlines should be installed in any remote stock rooms or break rooms with a direct link to the main store to ensure that all employees can be contacted and accounted for.

6 - Comfort

Emergency shelters should not only be secure but also comfortable. It may take a number of hours for an incident to be resolved and its importnat to keep people calm and comfortable is key in a shelter situation. Sources of food and drink should be provided. Shelters may be designed to contain existing break rooms, with fridges or vending machines available. If this is not possible, long-life survival food kits can be purchased and stored in a safe place within the shelter. Survival food kits can have a shelf-life of up to 5 years. Where possible, an emergency shelter should also have access to at least one toilet. 

Read more about our Emergency Response and Evacuation services.

Related article: How the tech sector implements EHS