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 emergency.
• 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.