Force protection managers explain lockdown, shelter in place

By Ms. Cathy Segal (TACOM)December 21, 2016

Run, hide, fight
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

It was a relatively quiet day at work on Aug. 10 until the emergency alarm pierced the morning calm with its earsplitting tone, followed by a stern announcement to lockdown. "Exercise! Exercise! Exercise! Attention all personnel. Lockdown! Lockdown! Lockdown! Immediately lock and barricade all doors, silence all cell phones, shut off the lights, and stay quiet. Repeat, lockdown! Lockdown! Lockdown! …." One minute the halls were abuzz with the sounds of people talking as they made their way to meetings and other destinations; the next minute brought concerned shouts with instructions to take cover in response to an active shooter in another building.

During this simulated threat, a force protection expert had determined the best action to take and passed the information to the workforce via the garrison alarm system, and through desktop and mobile notification systems. A similar announcement would follow a natural disaster, though the instructions would be to shelter in place instead of lockdown. But if this exercise is any indication, many people are confused about what to do in either scenario.

What is the difference between shelter in place and lockdown, and when is it appropriate to do each?

According to Pete Watson, the Detroit Arsenal's Installation Emergency Manager, shelter in place, or SIP, is fluid based off of an event.

"You may SIP, some people call it sheltering up, in the event of a flood, for example. You would shelter down in the event of a tornado, where you want to shelter in the lowest, most interior spot," he said. "Each organization's emergency action plan specifies its shelter-in-place locations, and additional instructions may specify to shelter up or shelter down so people know in which direction to head."

Lockdown, on the other hand, is ordered when a man-made danger is or could be imminent. During these events, the alarm would be followed by an announcement of what and where the danger is; in the exercise it was an active shooter in Building 252. Anyone in and around that building would have had to assess the situation and run for safety, hide or barricade themselves in, or fight for their lives.

Pat Gutierrez, the Detroit Arsenal's Installation Antiterrorism Officer, explained when it might be appropriate to run, hide or fight.

"If you see the shooter you have to decide to run, hide or fight based on proximity. If you're not in the immediate vicinity of the shooter, lock and barricade your doors, silence your cell phone and turn off all the lights. If you're not in your office, find an area where you can lockdown and barricade yourself," he said.

"SIP, unlike lockdown, for the most part comes with a warning," said Watson. "You have additional time to make it to your end location or your SIP area, whereas you don't necessarily have that in lockdown.

For individuals to think that they have one SIP location and one lockdown location, they're misinformed or confused about the difference between the two," he added.

He said that the announcement to shelter in place can follow natural or man-made events.

"We could have natural events like floods or tornadoes; a man-made event would be a chemical release," he said. "I wouldn't want a whole bunch of folks out in the environment where this bad stuff is off-gassed. I need them inside, so we talk about having an interior location for that whether it's up, whether it's down, whatever the instructions are. But it's also based off of weather -- wind, temperature, dew points; you may have to shelter up and seal all your doors with duct tape to stop that product from gaining entry to your area. That's a different type of SIP, so that's why I call it fluid," he explained. "It just depends on the event, and we will give the populace the instruction at that point whether we are sheltering up, whether we are sheltering down, whether we are evacuating your building, whether we are sheltering in a different building, that type of stuff."

Shelter-in-place cabinets have been placed throughout the installation to assist in providing immediate short-term needs for that event.

"We supply the SIP cabinets with necessities to survive for a short period of time," Gutierrez said. "We encourage self-preparedness as well to help close the gap in that each individual on the installation should have those same kind of items at their work locations that we have in the cabinets, which is water, nonperishable food items, medication, a whistle, a flashlight, a radio. Put them at your workstation. That way you're not relying solely on the SIP cabinets."

Watson, the Installation Emergency Manager, added, "When we do shelter in place, it doesn't mean that anyone can go to the SIP cabinet and pop it open. There is no need to do that right away. When a SIP is going to exceed a longer period of time, then instructions will be provided to tell people, 'At this time, utilize the contents of the cabinet if you need them.' Organizations may also purchase more items to supplement the SIP cabinet."

While SIP locations are well marked and assigned ahead of time, Gutierrez emphasized that there are no assigned lockdown spaces. "Generally, people will lockdown in their immediate work area; that's how we run through the preparedness procedures," he said.

"When we are in lockdown you are not going to shelter in place -- you will take either a defensive position or an offensive position if there is a shooter or terrorism incident on base. If you hear gunshots in the immediate area, then you are going to go into run, hide, fight. If you have to, you can lockdown as well but if shots are heard in your work area you have some options to consider, but sheltering in place is not one of them. That's because the mindset of shelter in place is to pretty much carry on your normal day," he explained.

According to Gutierrez, the Installation Antiterrorism Officer, the best way for people to gain a better understanding of how to react to a particular situation is to receive training. "Until someone goes through the face-to-face training, watches a video on it and sees what they might be faced with, they won't understand the best way to handle themselves in a real active-shooter situation."

Some of the training tools they use were developed by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security in response to real-world scenarios.

Gutierrez said that, "For some people, the training has been a shock. It has been an eye-opening situation because they didn't know. That's what our concern is -- we're in the business to deter, to detect, to defeat, to know what to do when that day actually comes. And in the whole uptick of active shooter situations, whether it be domestic, extremists, terrorism, what have you, people don't know how to react."

During the June 2016 nightclub shooting in Orlando, for example, people reacted in what was pure panic and fright, Gutierrez said. "In panic and fright, your mind doesn't always think clearly but if you can watch a video and have someone break it down for you and tell you what to do, give you insight in how to react to a situation, that may contribute to your survival. We're always talking about situational awareness and vigilance and developing courses of action wherever you're at. Not everyone is going to know how to react, but people should know."

According to Gutierrez, employees at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., were instructed to shelter in place, not lockdown during the shootings there in 2013. Wayne Leong, now retired, worked nearby as the director of acquisition for the Maritime Administration. He remembers hearing an announcement prohibiting workers from leaving his building but he didn't know how to react to a shooter. He said they had held SIP drills geared toward weather and earthquake events but had not practiced lockdowns in response to active shooters.

"Their understanding of shelter in place was to sit where they were at and not do anything," Gutierrez said. "Someone in the shooter's building decided that they needed to do something, so they pulled the fire alarm. It has been ingrained in our brain since we were 5 or 6 years old that when you hear the fire alarm, you evacuate a building. Well, now you've just created 700 additional targets that didn't need to be out there. So you need to understand the situation and how to react to that situation," he added.

Watson and Gutierrez, who work in the Detroit Arsenal's Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization & Security, are available to provide disaster preparedness training.

"I'm concerned about people's knowledge, preparedness and readiness for survival on this installation in the event this happens," Watson said. "Our responsibility is to teach the workforce how to react to incidents, natural disasters, or an active-shooter situation on the garrison. We're always here to provide this training and knowledge to people."

Gutierrez said, "There is a lack of interest until something actually happens, then it's, 'why wasn't I told this' or 'why wasn't I trained on this.' Every time an active shooter situation happens across the nation, Pete and I get an influx of emails asking, 'are we going to start doing this,' 'are we going to start doing that,' 'what about this,' 'what about that.' Well, what about attending our training and learning about preparedness, learning about reacting to an active-shooter situation?"

"The run, hide, fight video that DHS has put out is an outstanding video. It shows it straight and to the point about what to do," Watson said. It is available online at

Another training tool, which is required by the Department of the Army, is the Joint Knowledge Online video, JKO, Antiterrorism 101 Awareness Training. "You go through active shooter, you go through preparedness, you go through all these things in there for the antiterrorism training," Gutierrez said. "It isn't something where you can click next, next, next, click and get out of there. There is a test, and if you don't pass it you have to take it again until you get it right. So it holds you accountable and gives you a knowledge base on how to understand anti-terror. I think that's the greatest thing we could possibly have on an installation -- people taking their preparedness and protection training, and understanding antiterrorism at their level."

The garrison will continue to schedule exercises to assess the workforce's response to lockdown and SIP scenarios. "That, along with our training, is the best way to prepare people for either situation," Watson said. "The more people there are who know how to react, the better we all will be."

To schedule disaster preparedness training for units, work centers or individuals, email

September is National Preparedness Month. Download the FEMA mobile app from your smartphone's app store to receive National Weather Service alerts for up to five locations, get safety reminders and tips to survive natural disasters, locate shelters when you are away from home or work, and upload your disaster photos to help first responders. Visit for tips and templates on how to make an emergency plan for your family.