Shelter in Place


By: Beth von Behren on July 23, 2012 Print This Post

As I was running on the elevated track at the gym this morning, the one that runs around and above the basketball court, I found myself visualizing what it would look like if one of the basketball hoops lost its mooring and went crashing into the railing.  (Runners have all kinds of crazy thoughts as they run; blame it on the endorphins or the abundance of time to think that running provides.)  This image, crazy as it sounds, got me thinking about what I would do if an earthquake hit while I was running on the elevated track.

The words of Kirkwood’s Safety Manager, Christian Dunman, came quickly to mind:  Shelter in place.

The gym has a lot of windows, so I’d want to find some place out of the path of flying glass and debris, and luckily, there is one corner of the track where a well-placed bench sits off to the side. I would slide myself under that bench, I decided.  Even though it was slatted, rather than solid, it would provide some degree of protection.  I would look crazy, but I would be safer there than standing up against the railing or right in front of the very large glass windows on either side of the gym.

In my office at work, I’ve already decided that in the event of an earthquake, I’d crawl under my desk.  I know this is what I would do because our Safety Manager has

Yes, I look silly, but I would be safe here from flying debris.

visited each and every one of us and asked us what we would do.  The thing is – when an earthquake hits, you may not have much time to think or react, and your reactions will be tempered by panic, so it’s a very good idea to have  worked out in your mind, ahead of time, just what you would do.

In the event of a tornado, you might have a few more minutes, but you should still have a plan and a path thought out.  In my case, I would head downstairs to the lower level at City Hall, along with my colleagues and any visitors we might have in the building.  (We have, in fact, done this once.)

Crawling under a desk may not sound very safe, but it would actually provide good shelter from flying debris, and in the event of a roof collapse, there’s a good chance it would create a triangle of breathing space.  Whatever you do, don’t run outside.  Research tells us that most earthquake injuries occur when people inside a shaking building try to move to a different location or get outside.  But don’t take my word for it. Thanks to Christian, we have tons of information on our Website about earthquake safety and preparedness, and what to do after an earthquake hits.

The term Shelter-in-Place also refers to events where hazardous materials might be released into the atmosphere.  These could be chemical, biological, or radiological materials, and you can read more about that kind of situation here.

It’s a good idea to have a plan in place at home for multiple kinds of emergency situations – here’s a link to our Safety and Emergency Management Webpage for other kinds of information –  and to practice your plan with your kids or other household members.  If you are lucky enough to have a safety manager or department at your place of employment, you may already have a work-site emergency plan in place.  Still, it’s a good idea to look around you when you’re working out or at the grocery story or the library and know in the back of your mind where the best shelter can be found quickly – before you ever actually need it.



Written by Beth

Beth von Behren is the Public Information Officer for the City of Kirkwood. She manages the City Website ( and writes/edits both the monthly "Eye on Kirkwood" (published on the last Friday of the month inside the "Webster-Kirkwood Times") and the every-other-weekly e-newsletter "Kirkwood Happenings." To sign up for the e-newsletter, send an email to