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Safe Haven or Shelter-in-Place: Which is right for your facility?

When working on a design/build project, a firm grasp of its intended purpose is critical in order to get the project’s design and estimate on the right track early. Recently, I participated in a discussion with a gas facility’s project team to establish design parameters for a control room project. As I took notes, I noticed that the terms “shelter-in-place” and “safe haven” were being used interchangeably to describe the building’s attributes by members of the team, as if they were the same. I immediately recognized the need to research the designations to educate the team on the unique characteristics of each. After some research, here’s what I found.

The Safe Haven Designation

With forced entry and ballistic resistance, this CoverSix Shelters buildings can be considered a Safe Haven. Areas or buildings designated as Safe Havens are strategically placed to address predictable, extreme events such as weather (earthquakes, tornados, storms), security breaches (active shooter), toxic releases, or potential explosions. In today’s environment, Safe Havens can typically include forced entry and ballistic resistance, and may be stand-alone or built into an existing structure. Both have design elements that provide refuge for pre-designated areas and/or personnel until a planned evacuation can be safely conducted or an all-safe declaration can be made. They can have multiple uses such as a gym, cafeteria, or laboratory. Siting is critical for these types of facilities, as quick accessibility is critical during extreme events that can occur within minutes of warnings. Adequate routing, maps and signage identifying it as a Safe Haven is also necessary in design.

The Shelter-in-Place Designation

Areas or buildings designated as Shelter-in-Place are generally designed and SafetySuite buildings can be customized to include all Shelter-in-Place requirements. implemented around knowledge of quantifiable and described hazards, such as explosions, toxic fumes release, fires, and chemical floods. Unlike Safe Havens, it is designed to protect occupants from an event that occurs without warning, with strong design elements built-in to withstand the entire range of hazards present, and they are sometimes intentionally sited within the hazard area. Typical features of Shelter-in-Place buildings in petro facilities can include blast-resistance, flame impingement coatings, positive internal pressurization, closed air recirculation, and supplementary air supply, among others. These protective features are specified to ensure occupants’ survival during an unpredicted event so that an understanding, and subsequent control of the event can be managed, including plant shut down and communicating with authorities and staff. Of critical importance in Shelter-in-Place design is a well-designed HVAC system with gas and fume detection features, automatic transition into safe mode, and reliable fresh air supply to detect and then prevent toxic fumes from entering the structure. Additionally, doors, windows and all other building penetrations are sealed to prevent leakage that would allow toxic fume infiltration. In many instances, supplementary air options can be added for redundancy.

The Similarities

There are also many similarities among these two classifications. Emergency power is crucial in both structures, since medical or life-saving operations will require both lighting and communications to sustain occupants over time. Additionally, lavatories are required, with some level of potable water supply. Both types of structures can also include oxygen masks and escape hoods, if an evacuation is necessary. Suitable, ADA-compliant sizing based on the number of personnel expected during an event is required in both. FEMA provides guidelines on these standards to guide the initial design layout. Similarly, both types of structures can be designed to accommodate an event that might last a few minutes, or one in which occupants might remain in place for days.

Official FEMA and OSHA Guidelines

FEMA and OSHA provide design guidelines and recommendations for both types of structures. While this brief article sheds light on the most obvious and common similarities and differences, it only highlights the topic. If you require a Safe Haven or Shelter-in-Place structure at your facility, locate a suitable designer and provider with knowledge and experience to ensure that all your hazards and options are correctly addressed.


To find out more about the Safe Haven and Shelter-in-Place designations, talk to one of our experienced representatives. 

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