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Shelter-in-Place Emergency Plan for Businesses

safety siren

What is “Shelter-in-Place”?

In the event of a chemical release, safety sirens (pictured at right) in Contra Costa County's industrial corridor will sound to alert the public. If you hear the sirens, or are told to Shelter-in-Place, emergency officials recommend these actions:

  • Stay inside and ask customers to stay inside, too
  • Close all windows and secure doors (locking provides a tighter seal)
  • Turn off all ventilation systems such as heating or air conditioning
  • If there are gaps in windows or doors, seal with tape or damp towels
  • Have an AM radio for emergencies and tune to KCBS 740 for more information

How do you know when to Shelter-in-Place?

Contra Costa County has a Community Warning System in place that uses several tools to alert the public. If there is a chemical release with the potential to impact the community, the outdoor Safety Sirens located in the vicinity of the emergency will be sounded. The sirens will sound for about 3 minutes, and will be re-sounded periodically during the emergency. The sirens are tested on the first Wednesday of every month at 11:00 a.m. Safety sirens are located in the industrial corridor of the County from Oakley to Richmond. There are other CWS tools to alert people in case of an emergency in other areas.

Shelter-in-Place advisories are issued by emergency officials via the news media. County officials recommend tuning an AM radio to KCBS 740. NOAA weather radios in Contra Costa County with "SAME" functionality will also receive Shelter-in-Place alerts. (These radios have been provided to schools, childcare centers, hospitals, etc. in the industrial corridor to provide indoor alerting and information, but anyone can purchase a weather radio with SAME capabilities from a retail supplier. NWS radios will sound an alert tone, followed by a voice message about the chemical emergency. Consider adding a weather radio to your facility.)

The County also has a phone ringdown system that would automatically begin calling homes and businesses in the impacted area with pre-recorded instructions about what to do. Even unlisted numbers will receive this call in the impacted areas.

What should we do during a chemical emergency?

If emergency officials recommend that people in your area Shelter-in-Place, you should stay inside and encourage customers, vendors, and others to do the same. Allow people from outside to Shelter-in-Place in your facility. Begin implementing your site emergency plan. For a Shelter-in-Place emergency, you will need to stay inside until the chemical leak has stopped and winds have dissipated any vapors in the vicinity.

Here are the recommended steps to Shelter-in-Place:

  1. Advise everyone to stay inside. Announce to everyone in the building that the County has issued a Shelter-in-Place advisory. Recommend that people not leave the building during this time unless specifically ordered to do so by police or fire personnel. Leaving the building could result in exposure to toxic chemical vapors.
  2. Close all doors, windows and other sources of outside air. Close and lock windows for a tighter seal. Control access doors (locking will provide a tighter seal). Post a "Shelter-in-Place in Effect – Controlled Access" sign in the window so that people outside will know you are closed and Sheltering-In-Place. If additional people want to enter to Shelter-in-Place, minimize the time the door is held open. Move others in the room away from the door that is opened. People who insist on leaving the building should be allowed to leave, but advise them it is at their own risk since emergency officials have issued a Shelter-in-Place advisory.
  3. Turn off all air conditioning or heating systems. Your building's thermostats or air-handling cutoff switches should be labeled, and employees should be trained where they are located and how they work. Ceiling fans or portable fans can be used inside to keep cool while the ventilation system is shut down.
  4. Turn on your AM radio to KCBS 740. Emergency officials in Contra Costa County recommend tuning to KCBS 740 for emergency information. Officials will be providing the news media with updated information on the locations that should continue to Shelter-in-Place. If you have a television available, Bay Area television stations will also provide news reports, and should scroll information during the event.
  5. Stay off the telephone. Contra Costa County has a telephone ringdown system that will begin calling numbers in the impacted area during a Shelter-in-Place emergency. Avoid using the phone so it is available to receive the informational call. Do not call 9-1-1 to get more information. Only call 9-1-1 if you need immediate assistance with a life-threatening emergency. Overloaded telephone circuits (including cellular phone calls) can prevent actual emergency calls from getting through.

How long will the sirens sound?

The sirens will sound initially for about three minutes.

How will we know when the emergency is over?

County officials will announce the All Clear via the news media, so keep monitoring KCBS 740. There is no separate Safety Siren signal for All Clear. The sirens were not designed to be heard indoors. The County will also reactivate its telephone ringdown system to begin calling numbers in the impacted area with the All Clear message, but it may take a little while to call all numbers.

After the All Clear is announced, Health Department officials recommend that you open your windows and doors and air out your building.

When are the sirens tested?

The sirens are tested on the first Wednesday of each month at 11:00 a.m. They only sound for about one minute during the test, but will sound for three minutes during a real event.

How can I better promote Shelter-in-Place safety in my place
of work?

CCC CAER Offers SIP GUIDELINES for businesses

If a major chemical release occurred, local emergency officials would notify people to Shelter-in-Place as a protective action. Shelter-in-Place means to go inside, close doors and windows, shut off heating or air conditioning systems and take any other steps necessary to prevent contaminated outside air from entering the building. Businesses have unique challenges during such an event. Employees need to be trained to know what to do. Customers and vendors will need instructions. What if people on the street enter your business looking for a place to get indoors?

To assist businesses with these challenges and help them get prepared for a Shelter-in-Place event, the Contra Costa County CAER (Community Awareness and Emergency Response) Group is offering planning guidelines to businesses in the county.

CAER's Business Shelter-in-Place guidelines include information and training materials to assist businesses in developing a Shelter-in-Place plan for their sites, including:

  • color magnet
  • a Shelter-in-Place emergency planning checklist
  • fliers for customers or vendors
  • a “controlled entry” sign for an outside entrance
  • employee training procedure
  • a copy of the guide “Shelter-in-Place at Your Office” prepared by the National Institute of Chemical Studies

Every business should develop a written emergency plan that includes what to do in case the safety sirens sound or a Shelter-in-Place advisory is issued, just as the plan covers what to do in case of a fire or earthquake. A harmful chemical could be accidentally released from an industrial processing or storage facility, or during transportation from a spill involving a pipeline, railcar or truck. Chemical releases can also occur from municipal wastewater treatment facilities that utilize ammonia or even a community swimming pool that still uses chlorine.

To request a free copy by mail of the Business Shelter-in-Place guidelines, contact CAER toll-free at
(925) 313-9296. CAER will also provide speakers or onsite mentoring to assist with emergency planning.

Emergency “Go-Kits”

What is a “Go-Kit”?

Go-kits are for everyone – not just got people with special needs. The purpose of a go-kit is to have survival necessities immediately available in a bag that can be grabbed when exiting a home, living situation, work, school, addiction program, day program, etc. in the case of a disaster. Having necessary items ready-to-go saves valuable time and insures necessary items are taken.

Special-needs people (frail elder, mentally or physically disabled, children) often do not have the physical mobility or mental acuity to gather these types of things up under the stress of a disaster. Even people without special needs may forget or not know what to grab under the stress of an emergency situation.

A go-kit is comprised of a portable (duffel) bag (preferably red or orange) to hold the following contents:

  • Emergency information listing contact person(s)
  • Emergency health information card with medical and hospital information, etc.
  • Well-labeled medications - enough for three days
  • Copy of current prescriptions
  • The style and serial number of medical devices, such as pacemakers.
  • Small first aid kit
  • Water (16 ounces)
  • Energy bar(s) or few food items
  • Whistle or other noisemaker
  • Small flashlight (perhaps on a key chain)
  • Pad and pencil
  • Extra pair of glasses
  • Extra set of house and car keys
  • Small battery operated radio and extra batteries
  • Sanitary supplies (if used daily)
  • Sweater or light jacket
  • Cap or hat; extra clothes (one underwear, sweats)
  • Heavy gloves
  • Large plastic trash bag (can be used as raingear)
  • Pair of tennis shoes
  • If you babysit or have a pet, include items for them in your go-kit

A go-kit can be placed in an inconspicuous place near an exit. If you own a car, keep a go-kit in the trunk in addition to the home. Many assisted living and board and care facilities have a go-kit in each person's room. Spread the word about go-kits.