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Accessibility: Planning for Emergencies

November 4, 2010 - Emergency Preparedness

I’m Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today’s topic is accessibility.

Maintenance and engineering managers and others involved in emergency preparations understand life safety must come first. Unfortunately, planners often spend too little time developing strategies to get people out of the building, particularly people who cannot use the stairs to evacuate. Too few planners talk about ways to prepare for evacuations when not everyone is able to use stairs to leave a facility quickly.

One essential step for managers in this planning process is understanding the emergency components a building will support, including:

• areas of rescue assistance, not just a room down the hall or a place on the stairwell landing
• emergency-communication systems that meet the needs of persons with hearing disabilities
• visual alarms where required
• identification of assistive equipment, such as evacuation chairs
• and, an emergency-response team with floor wardens.

Now comes the touchy part. Planners often believe they have to ask, "Do you have a disability that I have to accommodate under the ADA?"

That question is not necessary to get the needed information to protect a facility and its occupants. Instead, planners can ask, "Would you need assistance in evacuating the building if the elevators were shut down?" That question does not intrude into anyone’s personal disability or business, but it begins the dialogue.

Managers should preface that question with a great deal of education and outreach about the efforts building owners and managers are making to ensure the safety of occupants.

Finally, managers planning for the needs of visitors to a facility need to consider the case of a security staff, which can change often. One solution is a simple script of questions that includes asking about the kind of assistance a visitor would need, such as an evacuation chair or freight elevator, as well as a notation on the sign-in sheet of that particular person’s needs.


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