Evacuation Planning & the ADA

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Evacuation of Disabled Persons Planning Guide



Section 1: Need for Planning
Section 2: Disabilities and Evacuation Problems
Section 3: Evacuation Pre-Planning
Section 4: Alarm Systems
Section 5: Signage
Section 6: Areas of Rescue Assistance
Section 7: Employee Training



The purpose of this guide is to identify the unique problems associated with emergency evacuation of persons with limiting disabilities from a facility. Additionally, we have provided some examples of techniques that can be used for pre-planning and executing emergency evacuation of disabled persons. Since facility emergency planning must be site specific, it would be impossible to provide specific information and guidance for all instances. This guide may be used by facility owners, directors and managers to familiarize themselves and employees with the basic techniques of emergency evacuation planning for the disabled.

ADA and Emergency Evacuation

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) legislated equal access to facilities. One segment of the intent of the ADA that has been overlooked is equal exit during emergencies. It is essential that facilities that provide services to the general public such as hotels, motels, restaurants, nursing homes, hospitals, retirement centers and recreation facilities have a pre-planned procedure for evacuation of the disabled.

The Elderly & Children

In this manual we have included two groups that are not normally associated with the disabled: the elderly and children. As the average age of the population increases, the size of elderly clientele is also increasing. While many of these people may have no impairments, many will be limited by the natural and normal restrictions associated with the aging process. These limitations include, but are not limited to, mobility impairment, hearing and visual difficulties, speech problems, and reduced mental capabilities. Children pose different problems in emergency evacuation procedures. They 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.

Section 1 Need for Planning

Over 49 Million People are Disabled

Significant challenges can be expected during emergencies that require evacuation of a facility and these will be compounded when dealing with the special problems associated with the disabled, the elderly and children. A large reduction in these problems can be achieved through pre-planning, employee training, proper equipment staging and liaison with emergency professionals such as local Rescue & Assistance Squads, Fire and Police Departments.

Management Responsibility

Owners and managers have the legal and moral responsibility to provide emergency plans for their facilities. This includes having the proper immediate emergency equipment, emergency & evacuation plans and a properly trained staff. While most facilities have some sort of plan, either formal or informal, most do not provide for the special needs that will arise during evacuation of the disabled, elderly and children. Under the ADA, architectural barriers must be removed or redesigned to accommodate access for the disabled. Unfortunately, emergency routes have, in many cases, been neglected. While the use of elevators in multi-storied buildings are not safe emergency exit routes, stairwells and ladders cannot be navigated by many elderly and disabled people without assistance. Additionally, to provide the required assistance, the facility employees must know where these people are and how to evacuate them safely without increasing the danger to them or to the people they are trying to assist.

Employees Role in an Emergency

During emergencies people generally look to authority figures for direction. The general public normally expects this direction to come from facility employees and will, in most cases, comply adequately. For employees to provide proper direction and leadership in an emergency they must have had proper training in the procedures to be followed and this implies that management has a detailed plan for them to implement. In the absence of an effective plan and training, employees are left to their own choices in a crises. This can result in abandonment of responsibility, counter productive actions, and even increase the severity of the emergency situation. Employees must be trained to act in concert with each other and in accordance with the facility's policies and emergency plan. While no plan can cover all contingencies, the absence of a formal program and continuing employee training will result in unnecessary endangerment of people and property.

Section 2 - Disabilities and Evacuation Problems

Hearing Impaired

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.

Speech Impaired

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.

Visually Impaired

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.

Mobility Impaired

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.

Mentally Impaired

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.

Elderly Persons

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.

Section 3 - Evacuation Pre-Planning

Increase Margin of Safety

Pre-planning and preparation will increase the margin of safety, save lives and property when an emergency arises. Evacuation of the disabled can be carried out successfully if proper policies and techniques are implemented to:
· Train employees in methods of assisting the disabled
· Train employees how to effectively communicate an emergency
· Assign specific tasks during an emergency
· Identify specific needs of the disabled
· Provide a facility specific response plan

Facility Emergency Coordinator

Adequate management of any emergency plan relies on coordination and planning. Assigning a management level individual the responsibility for emergency planning will allow development of a resident expert who will be able to monitor policies, procedures and employee training. This person could also be assigned as the facility ADA Coordinator. The designated person should be familiar with the facility emergency plans, types of rescue and assistance available from local fire departments & police, the Life Safety Code, applicable local regulations, and ADA requirements for facility accommodations.

Identification of People and Needs

For facilities that provide lodging, special care must be taken to provide adequate measures to identify the specific needs of disabled persons. The following list provides some procedures that would assist facility staff.

1) Provide a means of communicating the facility's understanding of the special needs of the disabled. This can be achieved through several means.
· Signage at registration desks that provides a policy statement in brief.
· Training counter persons to tactfully express the facility's desire to be helpful.
· Space on registration cards to provide annotation for special needs by the disabled.

2) Color Coding for identification of room locations. This technique has numerous applications beyond identification of the location of disabled persons for emergency evacuation. Procedures for color-coding should be simple and easy to update. A single color should be assigned to each specific type of disability. When more than one disability is involved the most limiting one can be applied or a multi-colored system may be used.
· Color-coding of room assignments at the registration desk alerts desk staff when they receive a call from a guest that a special need may exist.
· Color coding of room doors, by means of a small colored card (no writing) inserted in a card holder on each door will alert the service staff of possible special needs
· Color-coding of floor plans provides means of identifying guests that may need evacuation assistance. These floor plans can also be use to provide emergency response personnel locations of persons needing extra assistance. These floor plans should show emergency routes, stairwells, balconies, areas of rescue assistance (discussed later in this chapter) rest rooms, major assembly areas and room numbers as a minimum. These floor plans should, however be simple to read and provide for quick understanding of the facility layout. They should also be easily transportable by one person to facilitate removal to a safe area for review by management and emergency response units.

Communicating an Emergency

Communication of an emergency situation must be provided such that not only can the facility alert guests but also so that guests can alert facility staff. Simple procedures can be implemented to provide the hearing or speech impaired person the opportunity to communicate by phone with the front desk. These procedures can be provided to guests upon registration. As an example, the international symbol of access for hearing loss could be displayed with an appropriate message that provides the type of assistance available, such as:
· Infrared Assistive Listening System
· Audio Loop in Use, Turn T-Switch for Better Listening
· FM Assistive Listening System
· Real Time Captioning
· Captioned Note Taking
· Oral Interpreters
· Sign Language Interpreters

Section 4 - Alarm Systems

Audible Alarms

Audible emergency signals must have an intensity and frequency that can attract the attention of individuals who have partial hearing loss. People over 60 years of age generally have difficulty perceiving frequencies higher than 10,00 Hz. An alarm signal, which has a periodic element to its signal, such as single stroke bells, hi-low and fast whoop are best. Avoid continuous or reverberating tones. Select a signal that has a sound characterized by three or four clear tones without a great deal of "noise" in between.

Visual Alarms

Visual alarms, to be effective, must be located and oriented so that they will spread signals and reflections throughout a space or raise the overall light level sharply.

Tactile Alarms

For hotel rooms and other rooms where people are likely to be asleep, a signal-activated vibrator placed between mattress and box spring or under a pillow has been found by Underwriters Laboratory to be effective in alerting sleepers. Many available devices are sound activated so that they could respond to an alarm clock, clock radio, wake-up telephone call or room smoke detector or general alarm.

Section 5 - Signage

There are several methods that can be employed to assist the visually impaired person in navigating unfamiliar surroundings.
• Tactile maps that depict facility layout (including emergency routes and instructions)
• Auditory-recorded instructions.
• Positioning of signs perpendicular to the path of travel.
• Raised and Brailed characters and pictorial symbols
• Signage with sufficient contrast and size.
The best readability is achieved through the use of light colored characters or symbols on a dark background.

Section 6 - Areas of Rescue Assistance

The Following requirements are derived from the Federal Register and are provided here for guidance and understanding. They are not all inclusive and do not consider substantial local regulations and codes that may exist.

Areas of rescue assistance are areas, which have direct access to an exit, where people who are unable to use stairs may remain temporarily in safety to await further instructions or assistance during emergency conditions. These areas should be clearly marked and identified to persons with disabilities that might limit their ability to use emergency routes unassisted.

Consistent with local codes, areas of rescue assistance can be any one of the following:
• A portion of a stairway landing within a smoke proof enclosure.
• A portion of an exterior exit balcony located immediately adjacent to an exit stairway. Note that openings to the interior of the building located within 20 feet of the area of rescue assistance must be protected with fire assemblies having a 3/4-hour fire protection rating.
• A portion of a one-hour fire-resistive corridor located immediately adjacent to an exit enclosure.
• A vestibule located immediately adjacent to an exit enclosure and constructed to the same fire-resistive standards as required for corridors and openings.
• A portion of a stairway landing within a exit enclosure which is vented to the exterior of the structure and is separated from the interior of the building with not less than one-hour fire-resistive doors.
• Other areas as described and designated by local codes and regulations

Size of Areas of Rescue and Assistance

Each Area of Rescue Assistance must provide at least two accessible areas each being not less than 30 inches by 48 of inches horizontal surface. The area of rescue assistance cannot encroach on any required exit width. The total number of areas should not be less than one for every 200 persons of calculated occupant load served by the area of rescue assistance.

Stairway Width

Each Stairway adjacent to an area of rescue assistance shall have a minimum width of 48 inches between the inner sides of the handrails.

Communication with areas of rescue assistance

A method of two-way communication, with both a visual and audible signal, must be provided between each area of rescue assistance and the primary entry to the building. The fire department or appropriate local authority may approve a location other than the primary entry.

Identification of areas of rescue assistance

Each area of rescue assistance shall be identified by a sign that states:

Area of Rescue Assistance

and displays the international symbol of accessibility. The sign must be illuminated when exit sign illumination is required. Signage must also be installed at all inaccessible exits and where otherwise necessary to clearly indicate the direction to areas of rescue assistance. In each area of rescue assistance, instructions on the use of the area under emergency conditions shall be posted adjoining the two-way communication system.

Section 7 - Employee Training

The purpose of employee training in this area is three-fold. First they should be provided an appreciation for the limitations of the disabled to be better able to provide the proper assistance in each case. Second, through proper training, they will understand their own limitations in providing assistance and be able to maximize their abilities in this area. Third, employees should be trained that disabled people are not all alike. Each disabled persons has different personal means of physically and psychologically handling their disabilities.

Equal Service

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.

Sensitivity Training

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.

Emergency Training

Facility Management 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.

Emergency Drills

Each facility should conduct routine drills to ensure that employees can perform assigned functions and that the plan actually works. These drills can be used to finely tune the facility's response to emergencies and greatly reduce the possibility of inappropriate actions that could lead to unnecessary endangerment of people and property. Training drills should include briefs to employees on the expected response from emergency personnel from both on-site and off.

Types of danger and graduated response

Each facility emergency response plan should define the levels of danger to both people and property. Management should train employees how and why these various levels are activated by management and what their specific actions should be. Evacuation response actions should be tailored to the situation and type of danger that exists or could possibly exist. These types of dangers, from least severe to most severe, are categorized as:
· Possible Danger
· Imminent Danger
· Immediate Danger
· Life Threatening Danger

Employee Actions

All employee actions during emergencies should be directed to:
• Actions to notify Emergency Response Units
• Action to facilitate orderly and timely evacuation if necessary, this includes notifying and assisting the disabled.
• Actions to limit the severity of the emergency
• Actions to assist Emergency Response Units and personnel
Employees should be cautioned not to attempt any actions for which they are not trained unless inaction would result in a Life Threatening Danger. Employees should not be expected to unnecessarily endanger themselves while carrying out their assigned duties.

Additional training

Additional employee emergency training can be obtained through local Fire Departments, The American Red Cross, Search and Rescue Units and similar organizations.



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