Emergency Evacuation

Disability Guidelines

The following provides a general guideline of evacuation procedures for persons with disabilities during a fire and any other building emergency. Faculty, staff, and students with disabilities must work with their supervisors, faculty, resident advisors, and the Environmental Health and Safety Office to identify their primary and secondary evacuation routes from each building they use. Emergency exit route signs are posted in conspicuous locations throughout university buildings. Each sign identifies primary exit routes, alternate exit routes, fire safety equipment, and Designated Assembly Areas. Emergency exit route signs also provide the building’s physical address and name.

To ensure a quick exit in the event of an emergency, individuals with disabilities need to:

  • Be familiar with evacuation options (see below).
  • Seek evacuation assistants who are willing to assist in case of an emergency.
  • Educate the evacuation assistant on guidelines for working with individuals with disabilities to provide a quick and safe exit.
  • Ask supervisors, faculty, Resident Advisors, or the Environmental Health and Safety Office about evacuation plans for buildings.
  • Know the locations of the nearest Areas of Assistance in all buildings that are regularly occupied and always carry a mobile phone for emergencies.
  • Practice evacuation procedures alone and with your evacuation assistants frequently.

For additional information about emergency evacuation and emergency procedures please reference the Environmental Health and Safety Office’s Emergency Preparedness Guides available online at ehs.gmu.edu.

Evacuation Options

Persons with disabilities must evacuate to the nearest safe exit. Persons with disabilities have four basic evacuation options:

Horizontal Evacuation: using building exits to the outside ground level or going into unaffected wings of multi-building complexes.

Stairway Evacuation: using steps to reach ground level exits from the building.

Area of Assistance: with an evacuation assistant, going to an Area of Assistance 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 special needs. Emergency personnel will then facilitate evacuation.

An Evacuation Assistant is a volunteer, co-worker, classmate, suite mate, or friend who can lend assistance to persons with special needs during an emergency. Evacuation Assistants provide instruction during an evacuation, help  individuals with special needs relocate to Areas of Assistance, notify first responders or emergency personnel of persons with special needs that are unable to evacuate a building, and provide support as necessary to ensure a safe evacuation. Evacuations Assistants are NOT responsible for physically evacuating an individual from a building. Carrying a person down a set of stairs or out of a building should only be done by trained emergency response personnel.

Usually, the safest Areas of Assistance are pressurized stair enclosures common to high-rise buildings, and open-air exit  balconies. Other possible areas of assistance 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 Assistance, contact the Environmental Health and Safety Office.

Stay in Place: unless danger is imminent, remaining in a room with an exterior window, a telephone, and a solid or fire-resistant door is a viable option. With this approach, the person may keep in contact with University Police emergency services by dialing 911 and reporting his or her location directly.  University Police will immediately relay the individual’s 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 jam and frame. Non-labeled 1 3/4 inch thick solid core wood doors hung on a metal frame also offer good fire resistance.

Planning a Route

Prior planning and practicing of emergency evacuation routes are important in assuring a safe evacuation.

Mobility Impaired – Wheelchair

Persons using wheelchairs should move to an area of assistance with their assistant when the alarm sounds or stay in place and call 911. The evacuation assistant should then proceed to the evacuation assembly point outside the building and tell the University Police or the  responding fire officials the location of the person with a special need. If the person with a special need is alone, he/she should phone emergency services at 911 with their present location and the Area of Assistance to which he/she is headed to. If the stair landing is chosen as the area of assistance, 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 (i.e. the fire department of other trained emergency responders). Moving a wheelchair down the stairs is never safe.

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 individual may choose to move to an Area of Assistance, call 911 with their location and wait until emergency personnel arrive.

Hearing Impaired

Most buildings on campus are equipped with fire alarm strobe lights; however, some 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 note explicitly stating 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 accommodations should contact Ruth Townsend, ADA Coordinator at 703-993-8857 or email rtownse2@gmu.edu for assistance.

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. Identify evacuation assistants and practice evacuating with them often. 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.

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