In Jacksonville, Florida, the Glynn Academy had a noxious cloud, at times visible to the naked eye, descend upon the school. A nearby mill, GP Cellulose, had a power outage, resulting in the escape of gases that would have normally been incinerated. These gases were not lethal, but they smelled awful, and triggered an asthma attack in one student, who was treated and released.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states, ” ‘Shelter-in-place’ means to take immediate shelter where you are—at home, work, school, or in between. It may also mean “seal the room;” in other words, take steps to prevent outside air from coming in. This is because local authorities may instruct you to “shelter-in-place” if chemical or radiological contaminants are released into the environment.” In most cases, a shelter-in-place is in response to chemical, biological, or radiological (CBR) incidents. Schools may also use shelter-in-place in response to severe weather, such as tornadoes.
A shelter-in-place for CBR requires a bit of planning and preparation. Most newer schools have Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditi0ning (HVAC) units. These units can be used to create positive pressure inside the school, helping to keep gases out, for as long as there is power to them. They should also be set so that they do not draw air from the outside, as they often do to create fresh air. Should the power fail, the school will need to be able to seal the school from the outside. This may require the use of plastic sheeting, duct tape, or other materials to seal cracks in windows and doors.
This also requires more than materials. Parents and other stakeholders need to know that when a school is in such a situation, they should not approach the skill. There are few ways to allow people to enter a leave a sealed school without contaminating the school, endangering its occupants. Therefore a good shelter-in-place protocol will include community awareness and education, as well as materials and training.
The Glynn Academy is fortunate that the chemicals were not lethal. What about businesses near your school? Have they factored into your risk assessment process?