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What Shelter-in-Place Means in Simple Terms

Gabrielle Applebury
Man watching newscaster

Shelter-in-place is an order that requires individuals to move inside or to a safe area as quickly as possible and remain there until updated about safety, risks, and hazards. This order is enacted in the hopes of keeping people safe from various threats and dangers and should be taken very seriously.

What Is Shelter-in-Place Used For?

An order to shelter-in-place is aimed at saving as many people as possible from encountering a dangerous situation. This can include natural disasters, dangerous public crimes such as mass shootings, as well as epidemics and pandemics. Understanding how to shelter-in-place can help keep as many people as safe as possible during an adverse circumstance.

Shelter-in-Place Procedures

Schools, businesses, counties, states, and countries can all have shelter-in-place orders that can be enforced when an emergency arises. Depending on the circumstances, one business or facility may have their own set of rules for a shelter-in-place procedure, while counties, states, and countries may have other rules based on the emergency situation. Typically a state public health officer will enact the orders. Knowing how to shelter-in-place can help prevent a pandemic from spreading, keep individuals safe from weather related disasters, or prevent other potential hazards from harming the public. To shelter-in-place:

  • Get inside as quickly as possible. If not near your place of residence, head to nearest open building, a friend or relative's home, or workplace.
  • If you are in your car and can't get to a building or home quickly, find a safe place to pull over, turn off the engine and stop driving. Check the news or government website for official updates and instructions on what to do if driving.
  • If you are separated from your emergency contact, check in with them and account for all family members and pets.
  • Keep pets indoors with you and do not let them out, even to use the bathroom. Make a makeshift potty for them with supplies you have.
  • You may need to seal the room depending on the emergency. Continue to check news and government websites for updates.

Shelter-in-place orders will vary depending on the emergency situation. While some orders may call for a short duration of staying safe indoors, others may enact long-term plans for situations such as a pandemic. In long-term cases, the orders may allow going out for essentials, allowing pets outdoors to use the restroom, and using social distancing when exercising or taking pets on walks.

Essential Businesses and Services

Essential businesses and services may stay open during long-term shelter-in-place orders. These businesses and services may include:

  • Government services
  • Critical infrastructure
  • Pharmacies
  • Gas stations
  • Food banks, take-out restaurants, restaurants that deliver, and grocery stores
  • Some schools and childcare
  • Banks
  • Law enforcement and medical care

Legal Ramifications for Not Following the Order

The shelter-in-place order is not a suggestion. It is a legal obligation that is considered a misdemeanor to disobey and can result in a fine or imprisonment if you are caught. This means that it's critical to stay in the know regarding what the specific shelter-in-place order states as each one enacted will have varying nuances depending on the emergency at hand.

Why Sheltering in Place Matters

When orders are given to shelter-in-place, it is of the utmost importance to follow the strict guidelines given. Doing so can help keep as many people and pets as safe as possible during a dangerous or deadly situation.

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What Shelter-in-Place Means in Simple Terms