Let’s say you’re an owner or manager of a building — an office complex, museum or any other facility to which the public has access — and you want to devise an evacuation plan for people with disabilities.
There are five major points you need to consider, according to Kevin McGuire, a wheelchair user whose company, McGuire Associates Inc., with offices in New York and Massachusetts, has devised a “Disability Evacuation Plan” that it markets to facilities ranging from the workplace to sports stadiums, arenas, cultural institutions, school districts and municipalities.
“You need to learn your building,” said McGuire, whose company specializes in helping organizations comply with regulations established in the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said building owners and managers need to identify all emergency exits and stairwells, areas of the buildings where foot traffic is heavy, paths of travel to and from the building, and “areas of safety” within the building.
Next, get to know the kinds of disabilities that employees or residents have, as well as the disabilities of those who frequently visit the facility.
The range of disabilities extends beyond wheelchair users. People with disabilities also include those who are blind, visually challenged, deaf or have a hearing loss; those with mobility problems who need a cane, walker or crutches; people who are cognitively or emotionally impaired; the elderly, and people who are overweight or obese.
Once you know the kinds of disabilities you would be dealing with, you’ll be able to determine the type of equipment, as well as what kind of signs and storage you should have in place. If wheelchair users frequent your building, for example, you may want to purchase chairs that are specially designed to transport them down stairways.
Be sure to train your staff — and that means everyone on staff — on how to assist a disabled person during an evacuation, McGuire said. Training everyone, instead of one or a few people, will better ensure a disabled person will get the help he or she needs in an emergency, he said.
McGuire also strongly suggested that a business coordinate its evacuation plan with local emergency response personnel to ensure that it is a well thought out and effective one.