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Evacuation devices

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While the components of emergency management are extensive in nature, there is a pressing need to ensure that egress options are equally viable for all citizens – disabled and non-disabled alike. The prevalence of crises observed by the U.S. in recent years – due to natural disaster, terrorist attack, or other urgent incident - substantiate the importance of adequate preparation. In complement to this aim, the focus presented relates to devices that assist in making emergency evacuation more feasible for building occupants with impairments.

Recommendations for the effective, achievable egress of disabled evacuees centers on several prevailing themes. First, readily accessible evacuation devices should be strategically and consistently placed from floor to floor for immediate use. It is also important to know the proper handling methods of these devices. Another theme found in related literature details the need for people with disabilities to request any specific types of assistance desired prior to the actual onset of a crisis situation. Last, but not least of these, pertains to conducting routine practice drills for egress procedures, devices, and volunteer assistance related to emergency evacuation. This will increase awareness of policies and procedures used during emergencies as well as possibly reduce the levels of panic that can occur. It can also alleviate any apprehension on the part of the egress volunteers that could be associated with the ability to render the proper assistance to an impaired evacuee.



There are a variety of devices with a host of functions that serve people with different types of impairments. Basic categories for impairments that require specific assistance in emergency situations range from the auditory (hearing), visual, and can also include mental disorders related to anxiety. For example, a person with a hearing impairment may use an alarm that produces a blinking light in addition to sound to indicate a warning.

However, the current market for evacuation devices are predominantly directed towards assisting mobility impairments. Similarly, the bulk of the discussion related to emergency egress and the disabled focuses on this category in particular. Below are website links for a few devices that are designed to help get a person who uses a wheelchair down stairs and out of a building:

In existence since the 1970s, evacuation elevators were created to provide more rapid egress options for those who are unable to use stairs. Additionally, makeshift evacuation devices can be improvised with heavy (preferably fire-resistant) blankets, cots, hand trucks, in the absences of these items.

IT Egress Solutions

Contemporary egress solutions are becoming more sophisticated, due in large part to the utilization of new technologies. In the 2004 Conference Proceedings from the Emergency Evacuation of People with Physical Disabilities from Buildings, it is noted that the USDA has implemented an emergency program that has a number of technical components – including a computer emergency notification system, or CENS, which sends a flashing light signal to the computer screens of all USDA workers during emergencies. They also use a public address (PA) system that flashes strobe lights to alert workers (p.13).

These types of alerts eliminate some of the barriers that can obstruct a potentially life-saving alarm due to a sensory impairment. Simply put, the new wave of emergency systems are focusing on sending simultaneous alerts that can signal building/office occupants through sight, sound, and motion.

Assistance Required – The Human Factor

The importance of having properly rendered assistance by a volunteer is still crucial in the event of a crisis situation. For example, one must understand how to effectively assist a person with mobility impairments in a manner that will not further aggravate or worsen their current condition. Of course, one barrier to this process is a reluctance of individuals to disclose the specifics of their impairment. It is also necessary to understand the type of assistance that is needed – or even desired - for the impairment as well as for the person who is receiving the help. It is for this reason that practice drills, per the recommendations given by the Participatory Action Research Team of Columbia University’s WTC Evacuation Study, are so vital. This type of training will incorporate the needs both disabled participants as well as the methods by which volunteers are to lend assistance during the course of emergency evacuations.

In the wake of September 11th and Hurricane Katrina, technological advancements and policy recommendations are being directed towards achieving a more adequate, all-inclusive form of emergency management. Due in part to efforts to learn from past crises, establishing the type of egress standards that address the needs and abilities all citizens appears to be a growing priority on our national agenda. Budget constraints and a lack of awareness still present significant barriers, and probably will for some time to come. However, steady progress in this field is a critical step to ensuring safety options that will sustain the well-being for all.

Additional Sources Cited:

Illinois Assistive Technology Emergency Evacuation

IHS Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Solutions. “ASTM Int’l Tall Building Evacuation Devices Subcommittee Forms Task Groups”. (January 28, 2005)

Klote, John H., Bernard M. Levin and Norman E. Groner. “Emergency Elevator Evacuation Systems”. Elevators, Fire and Accessibility. Proceedings, 2nd Symposium, American Society of Mechanical Engineers – Baltimore, MD. (April 19-21, 1995), p. 131-149

The World Trade Center Evacuation Study. The Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University (NY, NY)

U.S. Access Board – Resources on Emergency Evacuation and Disaster Preparedness

Author: Brook Brandon
Affiliation: Graduate Research Assistant, Work RERC
Email Address: