“The Situation” It’s Time Police and School Districts Clearly Define Lockdown, Shelter in Place, Hold in Place, Etc.


Two phrases becoming more popular in the 21st Century were the buzz in the northwest suburbs Tuesday. In Streamwood the phrase “hold in place” was used to describe “a situation” by School District U-46. “The Situation” was actually a fight in progress — possibly involving 40 students.

The second phrase used in the northwest suburbs was “hard lockdown” during a Palatine Police Department drill at a Palatine school district that depicted a shooting at a school.

Recent Use of “Hold in Place”

Testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Admiral Mike Mullen said that the direction given to Special Operations Command Africa commander Lt. Col Gibson was to “hold in place” on the night of the [Benghazi] attacks.


“Hold in Place” isn’t actually the proper phrase for a response to an act of violence in a defensive civilian situation. “Hold in Place” is a term used in the military that instructs special tactical teams, such as Special Operations forces, to refrain from going in to a hot spot for attack or rescue. In the civilian situation “Hold in Place” might be confused with “Shelter in Place” which has been used by the military and media in mass shooting situations, especially involving recent military mass shootings. However, “Shelter in Place” isn’t the proper phrase for situations involving shooting violence either.

“Shelter in Place” is actually a designated SAME code — that’s the Specific Area Message Encoding which is the protocol used to encode the Emergency Alert System (EAS) for nuke warnings and biological terrorism warnings, and NOAAs Weather emergency warnings for severe weather. SAME codes are used for weather radios and alerts with loud tones on your cell phones (think tornado warnings, flood warnings, AMBER Alerts).

“Shelter in Place” with the SAME code of SPW is a warning for a civilian response that involves closing all household doors, windows and vents and taking immediate shelter in a readily accessible location that puts as much indoor air and mass between the individual and the hazardous outside air, such as a basement or centrally located medium to small room, and trying to make it as airtight as possible by shutting off all ventilation/HVAC systems and extensively sealing the shelter’s doors and windows from all outside air contaminants with damp towels, or if available, plastic sheeting and adhesive tape.

There is no SAME code for “Hold in Place” and there is no well-established civilian vernacular for “Hold in Place.” If “Hold in Place” is establishing itself as normal usage, it needs to be defined and clarified, because it could be very easily confused with “Shelter in Place” or “Lockdown.”

Go ahead Google it, or Bing it. There is not much on “Hold in Place” in the search results. There is some mix up with “Shelter in Place,” however. But again, “Shelter in Place” is technically not exclusively for violent incidents, it’s for protection from hazardous outside air.

Apparently U46 also uses a phrase “Secure Building” but District 300 in neighboring Carpentersville uses the phrase “Shelter in Place.” So how are good citizens supposed to understand all this babble that is not clearly defined and not properly applied?

Meanwhile yesterday, Palatine police were using the phrase “Hard Lockdown” for their drill that depicted a school shooting at a Palatine elementary school.

Community Consolidated School District 15 in Palatine uses the phrases Soft Lockdown and Hard Lockdown, which are thoroughly explained in the Parent/Student Handbook. There is no mention of “Hold in Place” or “Shelter in Place” in the handbook.

District 214’s John Hersey High School has an elaborate EMERGENCY PROCEDURES document that explains SOFT LOCKDOWN and HARD LOCKDOWN procedures. Again, no mention of “Hold in Place” or “Shelter in Place.”

North Palos School District 117 Clearly Defines Phrases, and adds that their school is in soft lockdown all the time …

Safety Tips and ‘Soft’ and ‘Hard’ Lockdowns Defined
Soft lockdown: District 117 is in ‘soft’ lockdown on a 24/7 basis. That means all the classroom doors and exterior building doors are locked. Visitors are asked to state who they are and the nature of their business when they are buzzed into a building. They should not be upset when people don’t hold doors open for them or show them the same courtesies once extended.

Hard lockdown: In a hard lockdown, non-employees are prohibited from entering a district building, whether it is a school or district office until whatever incident that warranted the hard lockdown is resolved. Oftentimes, the hard lockdown won’t be lifted until the local police department gives the district the ‘all-clear’ sign. Police often ask the district to hold off on informing our parents regarding our process for dismissal until they feel the situation is under control.

Neither District 15, nor Hersey High School nor Palos School District 117 define the phrases “Hold in Place” or “Shelter in Place” … and there is no evidence that the schools would even use those terms.

With the unnecessary secrecy of encrypted police radios in the northwest suburbs, police have blacked out much of the information that the media and public previously would be able to monitor and understand. Police departments should be working extra hard to make up for this deficiency in public safety knowledge, but both police agencies and school districts are notorious for putting out vague information (e.g., “a situation”, “it’s under investigation”, etc.). Police departments and school districts are NOT in front of the problem when they use or cooperate with government agencies that use fuzzy phrases like “Hold in Place” or “Shelter in Place.” Police and school districts are obligated to provide information in a timely manner to minimize suffering and worry. They should work together to standardized the terminology clearly for all citizens to understand across all of Chicagoland. It’s all part of optimal preparedness for emergencies.

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