Toxic Gas Shelters – When Evacuation is Not an Option


Emergency response planning is designed to minimise harm to personnel, the community and the surrounding environment. Removing personnel through evacuation is not always possible. A multitude of factors, including the lack of adequate pre-warning, will significantly impact the emergency action undertaken. As a primary means of protection, sheltering in place is the most survivable option when evacuation is not possible.

MineARC’s ChemSAFE solutions offer a safe and secure ‘go-to’ area for multiple personnel in the event of a toxic chemical release, fire, explosion or other hazardous emergency response scenarios. The range includes fully transportable Safe Havens as well as ‘Shelter-in-Place’ Room Conversions with purpose-built life support systems.

Planning for disruptions to operations and considering worst-case events is one of the most critical elements of a company’s emergency response effort. However, it is often underestimated, with the belief that ‘it’ll never happen to us’

When every second matters, choosing the wrong course of action during an emergency can quickly escalate from a minor incident into a major catastrophe involving loss of life. This means being prepared for any scenario. While safety preparedness and actions continually improve, accidents still occur. Although accidents have a low statistical probability of occurring, the likelihood of harm is much greater during a maximum credible event.

Typical ERPs are designed around the hazards associated with fire and attempt to move people away from the affected areas by mustering in open ground, devoid of flammable materials. While this approach reduces the potential harm to personnel during a fire, when combined with, or isolated to, the loss of contained chemical, sheltering people outside significantly increases their risk of exposure to airborne hazardous substances.

Simply put, shelter-in-place means to take refuge indoors within the area you are located. During an emergency, such as a chemical release, venturing outside may lead to exposure, and as a result, sheltering in place is the safest option. 

MineARC has been providing ChemSAFE Safe Haven and Shelter-in-Place solutions to the petrochemical, refining and power generation industries for almost 10 years. Understanding that emergency response requirements differ greatly between sites depending on their processing conditions, the location of personnel and dangerous goods inventory, MineARC has a team of experienced engineers and industry professionals to assist in the consultation and design process; resulting in a safe haven solution to best suit each individual petrochemical facility.

ChemSAFE Safe Havens provide a unique and cost-effective option; allowing flexibility as site requirements shift over time. MineARC’s Safe Havens are meticulously engineered to ensure complete protection from the outside environment, including a robust shell with up to 12psi blast rating, a fully pressurised vestibule and 0% ACH (External Air Change per Hour).

The ChemSAFE Safe Haven boasts a range of unique life-support features that have been engineered specifically for sustaining life in an enclosed environment. Systems include; a proprietary

CO/CO2 ‘scrubbing’ system with digital control and voice prompts, breathable oxygen supply, air conditioning, an advanced digital gas monitoring system, and UPS battery backup. Safe Havens can also be upgraded to feature the GuardIAN Remote Monitoring and Diagnostics System; allowing shelters to be monitored and observed from anywhere within the facility or even off-site.

Alternatively, MineARC’s ChemSAFE Shelter-in-Place Rooms Conversions are intended for petrochemical facilities that wish to use an existing room, or do not have the physical space for a portable Safe Haven. These modular constructed rooms are designed to have minimal Air Changes per Hour (ACH). By incorporating a range of MineARC’s life support systems such as the AirGEN, AirBANK and AirMAX, facilities can be confident that occupants will remain safe for the entire duration of the emergency.

In the case of conducting a Shelter-in-Place Room Conversion, MineARC petrochemical industry specialists work closely with each site to develop a turnkey solution that suits their requirements. The process starts with a site assessment to determine the suitability of any shelter-in-place location for conversion. This may also include a blower door or tracer gas test to generate a baseline for the room’s leakage and ultimately its potential infiltration concentration rate.

With manufacturing facilities in South Africa, Australia and North America, MineARC Systems provides safe haven equipment to Nutrien, INVISTA, Chemours, Duke Energy, BP Castrol, IOWA Fertilizer, Yara, PetroChina, Vopak and many other global petrochemical customers.

Chemical companies, or those operating within proximity to them, should establish a robust risk-assessed framework, with specific actions for both evacuation and SIP responses. Plans should be heavily scrutinised, tested and refined to ensure all personnel are protected in any scenario.

Residents and local businesses should refer to government emergency departments for more in-depth information regarding the potential hazards in their area.

Preparation, planning, and conducting drills are critical to how personnel react in an emergency. Understanding the impact and behaviours of a mass release of hazardous materials can help companies better prepare. This recognition will impact future planning, a re-examination of ERP and response to incidents.  The reality is, safeguards may fail, and if they do are you and your staff ready?

For more information contact our South African office on +27 (0) 11 796-5162, or visit

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