skip navigational linksDOL Seal - Link to DOL Home Page
Photos representing the workforce - Digital Imagery© copyright 2001 PhotoDisc, Inc.



Elizabeth Davis, Director, Emergency Preparedness Initiative (EPI), National Organization on Disability (NOD)

Elizabeth Davis, Director of NOD’s Emergency Preparedness Initiative (EPI), listened as other panelists addressed plan implementation and maintenance.

Throughout the Seminar of Exchange, participants were provided an opportunity to explore a number of specific issues related to emergency preparedness planning for people with disabilities, ranging from communicating with employees to individualizing emergency preparedness plans. Each of these topics is important in and of itself. However, an effective emergency preparedness plan requires that these elements be thoroughly and appropriately integrated to ensure the safety of all employees.

The objective of the final plenary session was to summarize the discussions held throughout the Seminar, as well as to help participants manage expectations and remain grounded in the reality of the planning process as they move forward. To this end, a three-person panel outlined specific points that participants should keep in mind. The panelists, national experts in the field of emergency preparedness planning for people with disabilities, were Elizabeth Davis, Director, Emergency Preparedness Initiative (EPI), National Organization on Disability (NOD); June Isaacson Kailes, Associate Director, Center for Issues and the Health Professions, Western University of Health Sciences; and Edwina Julliet, Co-Founder, National Taskforce on Fire/Life Safety for People with Disabilities.


The first set of points concerned the development of emergency preparedness plans and was delivered by Davis, who stressed the importance of avoiding emergency preparedness planning in a vacuum. Davis stated that:

June Isaacson Kailes, Associate Director, Center for Issues and the Health Professions, Western University of Health Sciences

June Issacson Kailes, Associate Director of the Center for Disability Issues and Health Professions at Western University of Health and Sciences.

  1. Often those charged with developing an emergency preparedness plan are doing so on the basis of a directive to create a plan, but with little support, guidance, or commitment from within the agency. As such, they are often unaware of other issues impacting plan development and/or implementation. This can lead to duplication of efforts, general chaos, and confusion.
  2. In order to develop the best plan for an agency, it is imperative that federal agencies share information about all aspects of their specific planning processes, including successes and failures. Davis explained, “We want to make sure we replicate the successes and we don’t replicate the failures. So, the sharing of information across agency lines is "critical." Sharing also ensures that agencies are not relying on the same resources or setting protocol that will conflict with other plans. This is especially true in situations where agencies share office space or are housed in close proximity.
  3. “Planning is a constant, ongoing effort.” As such, plans and other associated documents should be regarded as living documents or latest versions, but never as final or complete. Said Davis, “The minute [the plan] says it’s the final version, is the minute it gathers dust and cobwebs.”
  4. At all times, strive to exceed the minimum standards set by the plan. For example, if a plan calls for having one drill a year on a regular schedule, respond proactively. Raise the bar to one regularly scheduled drill and one unannounced drill per year. In doing so, Davis said that weaknesses in the plan will be revealed.
  5. “Successful plans and efforts come about when we involve all levels of an organization, both in the planning as well as the actual implementation "stage." According to Davis, you never know who will find themselves in a position where they need to respond.
  6. Seek out creative solutions, which incorporate tools, equipment, resources and new property in ways well beyond the original intended use. Nevertheless, solutions do not have to be high-tech or expensive. Often low-tech interim protocols can have as much of an impact as the final tool and policy under development. The point is something can often be better than nothing, as long as it is carefully considered and properly implemented.


The second set of points targeted implementation of emergency preparedness plans for people with disabilities. Kailes stressed that the impetus for the successful implementation of an emergency preparedness plan is to ensure that all the targeted individuals of an inclusive plan are taken into consideration.

  1. Make it as comfortable as possible for people to self-identify that they may require assistance during an emergency situation. Kailes insisted, “Many people who need assistance will never, ever identify as having a disability or having ... a special need." As such, according to Kailes, the effectiveness of emergency preparedness plans can be thwarted by an individual’s failure to self-identify that he or she has a disability. She surmised that this can be primarily attributed to the fact that “unfortunately, many people still attach a broad amount of stigma to disability and do whatever they can to stay away from that effort.”
  2. Ensure the plan is understandable and readable. This will impact plans positively. Specifically, emergency preparedness plans should be formatted with bullets and pictures, as well as be available in Braille, large print, cassette tape or electronic text versions.
  3. Establish support networks. Kailes specifically referenced the “buddy system” as a perfect illustration of support networks being beneficial. Recognizing that buddy systems are flawed in a number of ways, Kailes implored the participants to “rethink” the buddy system in broader terms. This means ensuring that everyone, including individuals with disabilities, is trained in various aspects of the emergency plan, despite any obvious limitations.

    For example, while an individual in a wheelchair may not be able to take someone down the stairs in an evacuation chair, that individual could instruct someone else on doing so. In developing implementation processes such as this, people who require assistance during an emergency situation will “have a much broader network they can rely on.”
  4. Practice emergency plans through a variety of drills. Kailes’ fourth point re-emphasized the importance of practicing emergency plans through planned and impromptu drills. Drills unveil weaknesses in emergency planning, through a comprehensive analysis of employee feedback. To this end, it is imperative that all people participate and provide feedback regarding the successes and failures of a drill. While impromptu drills are an excellent way to solidify employees’ grasp of the plan, it is also helpful to “actually appoint key people that know when the next surprise drill happens, so as to be able to evaluate everything that happens, and …develop action steps accordingly.”

Maintenance and the Future

Juillet’s presentation focused on the maintenance of emergency preparedness plans in light of looking toward the future. The emphasis was on alarms, elevators, and evacuation devices. Her primary point was that engineering trends, government codes, and industry standards will shape emergency preparedness plans by requiring increased egress safety for the building occupants with disabilities.

Alarms. With respect to alarms, Juillet explained that design and performance requirements are governed by ‘NFPA-72’ (National Fire Protection Association). NFPA-72 permits voice annunciation override of alarms. Nevertheless, there should be the incorporation of more “intelligent” messaging, which would convey additional information—other than evacuation and sheltering in place—and consider the needs of persons with hearing impairments and cognitive impairments.

Elevators. On the issue of elevators, Juillet acknowledged the inconsistent messages regarding the use of elevators during an emergency. Historically, elevator use during an emergency has been regarded as dangerous, prohibited in virtually all instances. However, some elevators are indeed operable during an emergency situation. Specifically, Juillet stated that such elevators share several characteristics intended to ensure safety and reliability: they must be installed in a smoke-proof hoistway constructed to a two-hour fire resistance and pressurized against smoke infiltration, with enclosed lobbies having a two-hour resistance (one-hour in buildings fully equipped with sprinklers) and being pressurized.

Edwina Julliet, Co-Founder, National Taskforce on Fire/Life Safety for People with Disabilities

Edwina Julliet, Co-Founder of the National Taskforce on Fire/Life Safety for People with Disabilities, explained the current state of alarms, elevators, and evacuation devices.

Evacuation Devices. The final issue discussed by Juillet was evacuation devices. She defined evacuation devices as the “devices people can transfer (in)to, to get up or downstairs to be able to evacuate the building.” Juillet noted that currently there are no requirements for the manufacture, use, or operation of this class of devices. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) technical committee ‘Means of Egress’ (chapter 5 of the Life Safety Code 101) has convened a task group, Evacuation Devices in Stairwells, to examine use, specifications for equipment and operations, etc.

Juillet expressed the paramount need for an active committee or council on these issues related to evacuation equipment, alarms, and, particularly, elevator use for emergency egress in order to assure these developments will be realized as quickly as possible.

Previous Page

Table of Contents

Next Page

Phone Numbers