Over 50 million people in North America are estimated to have some sort of disability that could make it difficult for them to evacuate from their home or another building in the event of an emergency. While building codes have continuously improved over the years to include requirements that reduce damage and injury to people and property by mandating features such as fire-resistive construction materials and structural stability, equally important issues such as accessibility and egress provisions have only relatively recently gotten the attention needed.
In response to the increasing need to properly provide emergency evacuation procedures for the disability community, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has developed an Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities. This Guide addresses the minimum information necessary to develop a comprehensive personal evacuation plan and is available in a free, downloadable format from the NFPA website at www.nfpa.org orhttp://www.nfpa.org/assets/files//PDF/Forms/EvacuationGuide.pdf
Accessibility considerations are equally important for individuals living in single family detached homes as well as townhouses, condominiums, and multiple-unit dwellings. Many newer buildings are constructed as “accessible” or “barrier free” to allow people with disabilities ready access. Visual as well as audible fire alarm system components, audible/directional-sounding alarm devices, areas of refuge, stair-descent devices, and other code-based technologies clearly move us in the right direction to address these issues. But regardless of the presence of these features everyone needs to be prepared to take appropriate action for themselves or other disabled individuals during an emergency.
The Guide is arranged by five general disability categories:
- Mobility impairments
- Visual impairments
- Hearing impairments
- Speech impairments
- Cognitive impairments
The four key elements of an evacuation plan are highlighted for each disability category:
- Notification of an emergency
- Finding a way out
- How to get out by self, by self with special devices; or with assistance
- What kind of assistance might be needed