Evacuations for Persons with Disabilities

Evacuation Options

Persons without disabilities must evacuate to the nearest exit. Persons with disabilities have five basic evacuation options.

  • Horizontal evacuation: Use building exits to the outside ground level or go into unaffected wings of multi-building complexes.
  • Stairway evacuation: Use steps to reach ground level exits from the building.
  • Stay in Place Unless danger is imminent, remain in a room with an exterior window, a telephone, and a solid or fire-resistant door. With this approach, the person may keep in contact with emergency services by dialing 911 and reporting his or her location directly. Emergency services will immediately relay this location to on-site emergency personnel, who will determine the necessity for evacuation. Phone lines are expected to remain in service during most building emergencies. If the phone lines fail, the individual can signal from the window by waving a cloth or other visible object.
  • The Stay in Place approach may be more appropriate for sprinkler protected buildings or buildings where an “area of refuge” is not nearby or available. It may also be more appropriate for an occupant who is alone when the alarm sounds. A “solid” or fire-resistant door can be identified by a fire label on the jamb and frame. Non-labeled 1-3/4 inch thick solid core wood doors hung on a metal frame also offer good fire resistance.
  • Area of Refuge With an evacuation assistant, move to an area of refuge away from obvious danger. The evacuation assistant will then go to the building evacuation assembly point and notify the on-site emergency personnel of the location of the person with a disability. Emergency personnel will determine if further evacuation is necessary.
  • Usually, the safest areas of refuge are pressurized stair enclosures common to high-rise buildings, and open-air exit balconies. Other possible areas of refuge include: fire rated corridors or vestibules adjacent to exit stairs, and pressurized elevator lobbies. Many campus buildings feature fire rated corridor construction that may offer safe refuge. Taking a position in a rated corridor next to the stair is a good alternative to a small stair landing crowded with the other building occupants using the stairway. For assistance in identifying Areas of Refuge, call EH&S Building and Fire Safety at (206) 543-0465.
  • For false or needless alarms or an isolated and contained fire, a person with a disability may not have to evacuate. The decision to evacuate will be made by the Seattle Fire Department (SFD). The SFD will tell the individual their decision or relay the information via the University of Washington Police Department (UWPD).
  • Assisted Evacuation Device In the event of a major earthquake or other campus-wide event that would prevent first responders from responding quickly, an assisted evacuation device such as a chair, can be used by trained personnel to evacuate mobility disabled persons.

Disability Guidelines

Prior planning and practicing of emergency evacuation routes are important in assuring a safe evacuation. In addition, helpers and others who may assist those with disabilities are reminded to always ask someone with a disability how you can help before attempting any rescue technique or giving assistance. Ask how he or she can best be assisted or moved.

Mobility Impaired -- Wheelchair

Persons using wheelchairs should stay in place, or move to an area of refuge with their assistant when the alarm sounds. The evacuation assistant should then proceed to the evacuation assembly point outside the building and tell SFD or UWPD the location of the person with a disability. If the person with a disability is alone, he/she should phone emergency services at 911 with their present location and the area of refuge they are headed to.

If a stair landing is chosen as the area of refuge, please note that many campus buildings have relatively small stair landings, and wheelchair users are advised to wait until the heavy traffic has passed before entering the stairway.

Stairway evacuation of wheelchair users should be conducted by trained professionals (SFD). Only in situations of extreme danger should untrained people attempt to evacuate wheelchair users. Moving a wheelchair down stairs is never safe.

Evacuation devices such as evacuation chairs may be used when first responders are unavailable. This could occur following a campus-wide emergency such as an earthquake or weapons of mass destruction (WMD) event. The following requirements must be met when using evacuation devices:

  • Contact EH&S at (206) 543-0465 to identify an appropriate device and determine where to store or place the device. In general, this will apply to departments with a mobility impaired employee whose primary work location is above the ground floor.
  • Assign a primary and secondary user of the evacuation device.
  • Each user must be a trained Evacuation Warden who has attended the Evacuation Warden training class offered by EH&S.
  • Train each user on the proper operation and use of the evacuation device. Coordinate this training with EH&S Building & Fire Safety at (206) 543-0465.
  • Update and document this training annually.
  • Install the evacuation device in a location where it cannot impede egress of others from the building.
  • The device will be used only by the assigned users and only when first responders are unavailable to assist a mobility impaired person to evacuate.
  • Evacuation devices will be available for use by specially trained Evacuation Wardens only.
  • Update the building’s Emergency Evacuation and Operations Plan by describing the standard operating procedures for the evacuation device.

Mobility Impaired -- Non-Wheelchair

Persons with mobility impairments, who are able to walk independently, may be able to negotiate stairs in an emergency with minor assistance. If danger is imminent, the individual should wait until the heavy traffic has cleared before attempting the stairs. If there is no immediate danger (detectable smoke, fire, or unusual odor), the person with a disability may choose to stay in the building, using the other options, until the emergency personnel arrive and determine if evacuation is necessary.

Hearing Impaired

Some buildings on campus are equipped with fire alarm strobe lights; however, many are not. Persons with hearing impairments may not hear audio emergency alarms and will need to be alerted of emergency situations. Emergency instructions can be given by writing a short explicit note to evacuate.

Reasonable accommodations for persons with hearing impairments may be met by modifying the building fire alarm system, particularly for occupants who spend most of their day in one location. Persons needing such accommodation should contact Disability Services Office (leaves EH&S Web site).

Visually Impaired

Most people with a visual impairment will be familiar with their immediate surroundings and frequently traveled routes. Since the emergency evacuation route is likely different from the commonly traveled route, persons who are visually impaired may need assistance in evacuating. The assistant should offer their elbow to the individual with a visual impairment and guide him or her through the evacuation route. During the evacuation the assistant should communicate as necessary to assure safe evacuation.

Speech Impaired

People with speech impairments can hear standard alarms and voice announcements, and they can see visual indicators that warn of danger and the need to evacuate. Therefore, no special accommodations or additional planning is needed for speech impaired persons.

Cognitively Impaired

People with cognitive impairments can hear standard alarms and see visual indicators of the need to evacuate. However, the ability to recognize, understand, and respond appropriately to fire alarms and other emergency notification systems, as well as the ability to locate exits in an emergency should be evaluated. Plans for assistance may need to be developed by the department.

Additional Resources

These guidelines are designed to complement the Departmental Emergency Evacuation and Operations Plan (EEOP) and Emergency Response Management Plan,, and to provide general information and promote planning. If you have any questions contact the Disability Resources for Students Office at (206) 543-8924 (V/TDD).

A brochure can be made available in alternate formats for persons with disabilities. Please contact the Disability Services Office with any requests at least 10 days in advance: (206) 543–6450 (Voice); (206) 543-6452 (TTY); (206) 685-3885 (FAX); access@uw.edu (e-mail).

(source: http://www.ehs.washington.edu/fsoemerprep/disabledevacguide.shtm)