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Guide for Assisting Individuals with Disabilities in an Emergency

An individual assisting someone in an evacuation chair
Escape Mobility Company

Preparation

Prior to an emergency, as a supervisor, manager, and/or emergency coordinator who works with a staff or faculty member or student with disabilities or who is in need of special assistance in their departments, areas or buildings, you should take the time to consider those with special needs when developing an evacuation plan and consider the following information when creating this plan:

  • Contact Information: Frequently communicate to all personnel the need for updating contact information and request that anyone requiring evacuation assistance self-identify their needs and discuss their personal evacuation plan.
  • Electronic and Telephone Information: Ensure contact information of personnel includes any alternate means of communicating information (e.g., email, phone/text, etc.).
  • Communicate and Document Special Needs: If an individual has self-identified their need for assistance, emergency coordinators should discuss any logistics related to an individual’s plan and document special instructions (e.g., location of Area of Refuge or stairwell, request to be assisted using an evacuation chair, etc.) in emergency plan documents.
  • Buddy Systems: Suggest a buddy system with a friend or colleague who can alert individuals of an emergency, check with them, or assist them as needed.
  • Assess Emergency Route for Barriers: Ensure that the path of travel to the Emergency Assembly Point (EAP) is wheelchair accessible (step-free).
  • Alternative Communication Methods: You may have a person who is blind, or visually impaired in your area; consider alternative methods of identifying EAP (e.g., large print sign, calling out location, etc.).
  • Areas of Refuge: Identify and be familiar with the location of the Areas of Refuge and/or designated stairwells where a wheelchair user can wait for assistance during an emergency.

Response

If an emergency strikes, it is critical for everyone to take appropriate and deliberate action. If you observe a person with a disability having difficulty evacuating, remember to ask if assistance is needed before taking action. Inquire how best to assist the individual and whether any precautionary measures need to be taken or items need to accompany the person. Consider the following suggestions when assisting individuals with disabilities in an emergency:

Individuals Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision

  • Communicate Nature of Emergency: Describe nature of emergency and the location if relevant, and provide simple instructions for exiting the building.
  • Offer Assistance: Offer your arm to assist with guiding the individual.
  • Verbally Communicate: Provide details about where you are going and any obstacles the person may encounter along the route.
  • Communicate and Orient: Once at a safe location, orient the individual of their location and inquire if further assistance is needed before leaving them.
  • Service Animal: Ensure the service animal is not separated from the individual and realize that the animal may be anxious or acting out in an emergency.

Individuals Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

  • Alert Individual: Turn the lights on/off or wave your arms, or touch the person on the elbow or shoulder to gain their attention.
  • Communication: Face the person, speak clearly and/or indicate directions with gestures.  Alternatively, and with time permitting, write a note with evacuation instructions.
  • Assist as Needed: The individual may need to be escorted outside of the building if information cannot be clearly communicated.

Individuals With Mobility Limitations – (non-wheelchair user)

  • Ask if Assistance is Needed: Inquire if they are able to evacuate using the stairs themselves or with minor assistance.
  • Ensure Clear Path of Travel: If debris is present, it may be necessary to clear a path to the exit route.
  • No Immanent Danger: If there is no immanent danger, they may choose to remain in the building or wish to be directed to an Area of Refuge or stairwell until emergency personnel arrive.
  • Immanent Danger: If danger is immanent, use a sturdy chair (or one with wheels) to move the person or help carry them to safety using a carry technique, or, if available, an evacuation chair.
  • Mobility Aid and Device(s): Ensure any mobility aids or devices are reunited with the person as soon as possible.
  • Notify Emergency Personnel: Ensure you notify emergency personnel immediately of any individuals remaining in the building and of their location.

Individuals With Mobility Limitations – (wheelchair user)

  • Discuss Manner and Preferences: Non-ambulatory persons’ needs and preferences vary widely and therefore require you to ask them how they would like to be assisted.
  • Evacuation Chair(s): Know if an evacuation chair is available in the building, its location, and how to operate.
  • Wheelchair-User on the Ground Floor: If the individual who uses a wheelchair is on the ground floor, they may choose to evacuate themselves with minimal assistance.
  • Ensure Clear Path of Travel: If debris is present, it may be necessary to clear a path to the exit route.
  • No Immanent Danger: If there is no immanent danger, they may choose to remain in the building or wish to be directed to an Area of Refuge or stairwell until emergency personnel arrive.
  • Immanent Danger: If danger is immanent and the individual does not wish to be removed from their wheelchair, direct them to the nearest Area of Refuge or stairwell and notify emergency personnel immediately.
  • Carrying Wheelchair Users: Most wheelchairs are too heavy to manually carry down stairs so if the person wishes to be carried down the stair(s) (without their wheelchair), consult with them on the best carry options, e.g., two-person cradle carry, office chair evacuation, or, if available, use an evacuation chair.
  • Mobility Aid(s) and Device(s): Ensure any mobility aids or devices are reunited with the person as soon as possible.
  • Notify Emergency Personnel: Ensure you notify emergency personnel immediately of any individuals remaining in the building and of their location.

Individuals with Psychological Disabilities

  • Observe Behavior and Assist as Needed: Note that alarms, smoke, and/or crowds may be overwhelming and offer assistance. Speak calmly and avoid touching the individual without permission.
  • Provide Reassurance: Ask how best to help and offer to stay with the person if needed once evacuated.