Understanding Evacuation and Individuals with Disabilities Personal Plans
This information provides a general guideline of evacuation procedures for persons with disabilities for fire and other building emergencies. Faculty, staff, students, and visitors at regional and worldwide locations should familiarize themselves with the facility they are located in and identify their primary and secondary evacuation routes and areas of refuge from each building they occupy.
The most significant problem during emergencies for the hearing impaired is immediate notification of the emergency. Emergency alarms should incorporate a distinct visual signal as well as audible signal to alert persons with hearing difficulties. Hearing impairment covers a wide range, from loss of high frequency hearing to total loss of auditory perception. Many people who augment their hearing with electronic aids often remove them at night and in an emergency might not hear the audible alarms designed to warn them of danger. Even after they become aware of the emergency they may forget to install their hearing aids in a crisis. People with no hearing disability can temporarily lose their hearing if a loud sharp noise occurs such as an explosion. Designing alarm systems and search & notification procedures with the idea that normal communication modes might not be effective will provide a facility the means of communicating danger and necessary actions to the hearing impaired. Another problem encountered by the hearing impaired is their inability to ensure their communication of an emergency has been received. When using telephones or other communication devices they cannot see the intended recipient. Special procedures should be implemented to allow the hearing impaired to communicate that an emergency situation exists and/or obtain assistance.
In emergency situations persons with speech impairments are not only limited by their own disability but also limited by the inability of others to recognize they are trying to communicate non-verbally. Under normal circumstances the techniques employed by speech impaired persons to communicate their needs, wants and desires are effective when the recipient provides adequate focus on the communication. In emergencies employees must be trained to take the necessary time to understand the ideas being communicated. As an example: During an evacuation of a facility due to fire an employee encounters a guest that is exhibiting the need to communicate but is not coherent. This person is motioning and possibly making sounds. The employee knows that this person must leave the area by the emergency route and tries to communicate this necessity. The person resists. In this and similar cases, the employee must be trained to take the few seconds required to calmly attempt to receive the communication. The disabled person may have knowledge of a hazardous condition or location of persons needing assistance. Training employees to communicate with speech-impaired persons is not difficult and does not require the learning of the American Sign Language. The idea here, as in the above case of communicating with hearing impaired persons, is to provide the disabled person an opportunity to communicate.
As with hearing and speech-impaired persons, visual impairment runs a wide spectrum. For those people with significant reduction in visual acuity, being in an unfamiliar environment causes them difficulty in navigating their surroundings. In an emergency they would be at a significant disadvantage unless aided. To assist persons with limited sight ability the following techniques will be helpful: (See also Signage and Communicating an Emergency)
- Install phones with large button faces and numbers. Numbers should be of a significant contrast to the button face to facilitate recognition.
- Signs and emergency directions should be large print and in colors that do not preclude recognition by persons with color blindness.
- Install Braille imprints on all doors.
- Provide Braille or verbal emergency instructions for visually impaired employees and guests.
- Provide familiarization tours for the visually impaired.
Providing proper sensitivity training for employees can prevent inappropriate behavior. It has been noted that some people have a tendency to speak louder and more slowly to visually impaired persons. This is an inappropriate reaction on their part in their attempt to deal with their misconception of visual impairment.
When most people think of disabled persons they have a mental picture of someone in a wheelchair. Mobility impairment however also has a wide range. While persons restricted to wheelchairs may be the most limited, accommodations must be made for all types of mobility restrictions. These restrictions may include conditions that require the use of crutches, canes, walkers, and people with motor dysfunction and health problems that limit mobility. Evacuation of people with mobility impairment is compounded by the nature of emergency route design. Stairwells used in lieu of elevators present the largest obstruction for evacuation. Employees need to be trained in techniques for assisting the mobility impaired. This includes knowing their own physical limitations and ascertaining the mobility impaired person’s condition and preferences by asking them. Disabled people live with their disability every day and probably know the best methods for assistance. Adequate and proper emergency equipment should be staged at strategic locations throughout the facility to enable not only employees to assist the disabled but also for use by emergency professionals that may respond to the scene.
Again, as with all the previous disabilities discussed, mental impairment may range from slightly diminished abilities to total incapacitation. Effective communication of the need to evacuate may be hampered if employees are not calm and persistent in their efforts to assist the mentally impaired. Though it is not always the case, some mentally impaired people may react to an emergency in an unexpected manner. Employees should be trained to handle unexpected behavior and provide the proper assistance attention to these people during evacuation. Additionally, they should be trained to be sensitive to mentally impaired persons attempts to communicate information or questions.
Determining the limitations of an elderly person is sometimes difficult. The normal aging process causes diminished physical and mental abilities. These may occur sooner for some, later for others, all to varying degrees. Elderly persons may have all or some of the impairments discussed earlier. Accommodations that are designed for the disabled may be used successfully for the elderly. It should be noted that the percentage of elderly persons in the United States is growing dramatically larger. This trend will continue for the next 50 years.
As stated earlier, children are normally provided close supervision by parents, or other responsible adults, who provide explicit direction for their daily activities. During a situation that requires emergency evacuation, children cannot be expected to understand or comply with directions designed for adults. If they have become separated from their caregivers, their link to appropriate action has been severed and they will require special assistance. As the number of facilities that provide on-site childcare rises, facility planning for emergency evacuation of children has become more important. Childcare areas should be located and designed to allow close and unrestricted access to emergency exits.
Management personnel should be trained in the provisions of the ADA that deal with the facility's responsibility toward the disabled public. Equal service is required to be available to all patrons.
Employees should be trained to not only understand the limitations imposed by disabilities but also their own misconceptions concerning the limitations of these patrons. Service and assistance should always be provided with dignity and understanding.
Departments and staff offices should conduct coordinated emergency training on a frequent basis to ensure employees can carry out assigned duties. Some specifics as they pertain to the subject of this guide are:
- Initial notification of Emergency Response Units (ERU), via 911, that some disabled patrons will need evacuation assistance and the on-site location where ERUs may contact management personnel.
- Sending employees to areas where disabled persons may be located to assist in their notification and evacuation.
- Staging employees at Areas of Rescue Assistance.
- Use of Areas of Rescue Assistance communication equipment.
- Transporting color-coded floor plans, facility emergency information and communication equipment to a safe, designated area.