5. The ADA:
Plan for Occupants With Special Needs
A well-thought-out emergency plan should address the needs of ALL building
occupants, including those who may require special assistance during a disaster.
These individuals will range from the obvious - an individual that uses a wheelchair
- to the unexpected - anyone who suffers from heart disease, asthma, or temporary
conditions such as pregnancy that can limit stamina.
Take the following into consideration during emergency planning:
• Manual pull stations, used when a fire is detected, should be located
at a height within reach of persons in wheelchairs - a range that varies between
48- and 54-inches from the floor.
• To alert occupants with hearing impairments, install visible devices
in addition to audible notification systems. Television monitors, scrolling
signs, and/or pagers can also assist in communicating instructions during an
• Assist visually impaired individuals by reviewing evacuation routes periodically
and assigning "buddies" to help during emergencies. Check to make
sure that all necessary signage includes Braille characters.
• Individuals with mental impairments may become confused during an emergency.
Keep instructions simple.
• Investigate purchasing evacuation mobility equipment for use by physically
disabled occupants who may be unable to use stairwell exits. (John Abruzzo's
story is proof of the effectiveness of these life-saving devices.)
• The ADAAG requires areas of rescue assistance be provided for use by
individuals with physical disabilities during an emergency. These areas of refuge
must meet fire-resistive standards, be a minimum of 30 inches by 48 inches,
and be identified with signage. For more information, call the ADA Information
line at (800) 514-0301.
• Survey building occupants to become familiar with which individuals will
need special assistance - make a list, and provide it to emergency personnel
during an emergency.
Individuals with permanent or major impairments will know how best they can
be assisted, and what type(s) of special products or equipment would be helpful.
Don't be afraid to ask.
SOURCES: Emergency Procedures for Employees with Disabilities in Office
Occupancies, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); Are Your Tenants
Safe? BOMA's Guide to Security and Emergency Planning, Building Owners and
Managers Association International (www.boma.org).
6. Do the Drill:
Training is the Best Preparation in Emergencies.
Drills are the only definitive way to determine if emergency planning will
be effective. When occupants are trained in evacuation procedures, they are
less likely to panic and more likely to act quickly, taking appropriate actions.
Drills should be conducted routinely and not only serve to teach individuals
where to go and what to do, but also help facilities professionals evaluate
whether emergency plans need to be revised, updated, or changed. After plans
are drafted, the Institute of Real Estate Management recommends drills be conducted
with advanced notice, giving occupants time to prepare. Eventually, the drills
should be unannounced, more closely simulating the actions taken by occupants
during a real emergency.
Drills are not the only training exercise that can be beneficial. Offer building
occupants the opportunity to become trained and certified in CPR and first-aid.
Also, review with individuals the proper use of fire extinguishers, emergency
mobility devices for the physically disabled, and the location of fire alarm
pulls and notification systems. Invite local authorities to participate in simulations
and review with building occupants some practical life-saving tips and techniques.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employees
should be trained in the following: evacuation plans, alarm systems, reporting
procedures for personnel, shutdown procedures, and types of potential emergencies.