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Resources on Emergency Evacuation and Disaster Preparedness




from the Access Board...

Access Currents

Volume 7, No. 5 September/ October 2001

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Resources on Emergency Evacuation and Disaster Preparedness

During the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, two men carried a woman who uses a wheelchair down 68 flights to safety moments before the tower collapsed. Other stories stemming from the disaster have shed light on hardships people with disabilities faced in the aftermath of the crisis, including difficulties they encountered in accessing various relief services. The tragic events of this September have brought into focus the importance of taking into account the needs of all persons, including those with disabilities, in preparing for, and responding to, disasters and emergencies. Accessibility information on emergency egress, evacuation planning, and disaster preparedness is available from a variety of sources.


Design Requirements for Accessible Egress The Board's ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), as well as model building codes, life safety codes, and state access codes contain requirements for accessible egress and emergency alarms. 

ADAAG specifies the required number of accessible means of egress and provides technical criteria. Requirements for accessible routes, such as width and the treatment of elevation changes, are applied to egress routes to ensure access for persons with disabilities, including those with mobility impairments. ADAAG also addresses emergency warning systems and requires that they include visual appliances to alert people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Multi-story buildings pose a particular challenge to accessible means of egress since elevators, the standard means of access between floors, are typically taken out of service in emergencies for safety purposes.

ADAAG includes requirements for fire-rated spaces where persons unable to use stairs can await evacuation assistance. Known as "areas of rescue assistance" or "areas of refuge," these spaces must meet specifications for fire resistance and smoke protection. They are often incorporated into the design of fire stair landings, but can be provided in other locations meeting the design specifications. A two-way communication device is required so that users can place a call for evacuation assistance.

ADAAG requires areas of rescue assistance in new buildings only and provides an exception for those equipped with sprinkler systems that have built-in signals used to monitor the system's features. Horizontal exits, which use fire barriers, separation, and other means to help contain the spread of fire on a floor, can substitute for areas of rescue assistance provided they meet applicable building codes.

Evacuation elevators, which are now recognized by model buildings codes, also offer a solution. Unlike standard elevators, evacuation elevators are specially designed to remain functional in emergencies. Evacuation elevators feature, among other things, back-up power supply and pressurization and ventilation systems to prevent smoke build-up. This type of elevator was not generally recognized when ADAAG was first developed, but the Board has included requirements for them in its proposal to update ADAAG.

Further information on these or other ADAAG requirements is available through the Board's toll-free technical assistance line and its website.  

Information on other building requirements is available from the model code organizations, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and state code entities.

Resources on Evacuation Planning and Disaster Preparedness Evacuation planning is a critical component of life safety, especially for people with disabilities. Planning should include a needs assessment so that individual accommodations and assistive products can be incorporated into an evacuation plan. Various products are available that are designed to accommodate persons with disabilities in emergencies. Mobility aids, such as evacuation chairs, can be used to transport people unable to use stairs. These devices are designed with rollers, treads, and braking mechanisms that enable a person to be transported down stairs with the assistance of another individual. Evacuation chairs can be a key element of an evacuation plan, particularly in existing buildings that may not have areas of rescue assistance, horizontal exits, or evacuation elevators.

Other products, such as visual alarm devices, are also available to accommodate people with disabilities, including in existing facilities.  

Key sources of information on evacuation planning include the U.S. Fire Administration and NFPA. Materials are also available on-line from www.ican.com   and the Job Accommodation Network. Information on evacuation products can be obtained from Abledata, a federally subsidized organization that maintains a database of information on more than 27,000 assistive devices and technologies.

The American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have developed materials on disaster preparedness for people with disabilities. The National Organization on Disability's website provides links to resources and guides on this topic.

Links to the following resources and specific materials are provided at www.access-board.gov/evac.htm .

ADA Accessibility Guidelines

Access Board

(800) 872-2253 (v)

(800) 993-2822 (TTY)

email: ta@access-board.gov 


Model Building Codes

Building Officials Code Administrators (BOCA) International

(708) 799-2300

e-mail: access@bocai.org 


International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO)

(562) 699-0541


Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI)

(205) 591-1853 (v)

(205) 599-9742 (TTY)

e-mail: info@sbcci.org 


State Access Codes

Contact information is provided on the Board's website at


Fire Safety/ Evacuation Planning

National Fire Protection Association

(617) 770-3000

e-mail: Education@nfpa.org 


U.S. Fire Administration

(800) 561-3356


Job Accommodation Network

(800) 526-7234 (v/TTY)



Assistive Products


(800) 227-0216 (v)

(301) 608-8912 (TTY)

e-mail: abledata@macroint.com 


Disaster Preparedness

American Red Cross

Contact your local chapter or call:

866-438-4636 9 (v)

800-526-1417 (TTY)


Federal Emergency Management Agency

(202) 646-4600


National Organization on Disability

(202) 293-5960 (v/TTY)

e-mail: ability@nod.org 







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