Egress is defined as the act of coming in or going out
[especially from an enclosed area]; emergence. It is also defined as
a path or opening for going out; an exit. Therefore, it makes sense
that developing an effective emergency preparedness plan involves considering
specific egress options. This breakout session provided participants the chance
to explore the pros and cons of various evacuation procedures, including the
use of elevators and the establishment of safe areas. For example, it has
become widely accepted to avoid using the elevators for evacuation purposes in
the event of a fire, but there are situations in which elevator use is
appropriate. Specific discussion included determining, evaluating, and
prioritizing evacuation options.
The breakout session consisted of presentations by June Kailes and
Edwina Juillet. Issacson Kailes serves as the Associate Director of the Center
for Disability Issues and the Health Professions at Western University of
Health Sciences. Juillet is the Co-Founder of the National Taskforce on
Fire/Life Safety for People with Disabilities.
As Kailes and Juillet reminded participants, the first step in
determining egress options is planning. Agencies must consider such issues as
elevator use, areas of refuge, the type of equipment available, and
who will require assistance. Training, practice, and research are essential in
helping both agencies and individuals determine the most effective practices
and evaluate the options. Moreover, engaging in drills and soliciting feedback
allow an agency to continually refine its practices. Finally, when evaluating
and prioritizing options, it is also critical to consider the nature of the
According to Kailes, the disability community motto, Nothing
about us without us should be a guiding principle in emergency
preparedness planning. Employees with disabilities must actively participate
throughout the decision-making process. Kailes identified the following as
primary issues to be considered in egress planning:
- Determining appropriate instances for elevator use.
Juillet reminded attendees that we, as a society, are conditioned to avoid
using elevators during an emergency. However, elevators can be used in certain
circumstances. Consequently, safe use of elevators needs to be a learned
Following an emergency (where an alarm is activated), elevators
automatically move to the main floor (or floor exiting to the outside) and lock
down in Phase I. According to The American Society of Mechanical Engineers
(ASME), Phase I is also referred to as Emergency Recall Operation. It
is defined as the operation of an elevator where it is automatically or
manually recalled to a specific landing and removed from normal service because
of activation of firefighters service (ASME A17.1). Once fire
personnel arrive and ensure the elevators are safe to use, authorized personnel
can operate them manually (Phase II). New elevators have buttons (marked with a
red fire hat) that flash when they are unsafe for use.
One participant, who oversees security in several buildings near
the Capitol, explained that his agency developed the following procedures
regarding elevator use:
The [specific agency personnel] have been trained to evaluate
the safety of elevators in these buildings and operate them in Phase II, if
appropriate. They then stop at each floor to determine if there is anyone with
a mobility impairment who needs to use the elevator. Those requiring assistance
are instructed to board designated elevators only if they are operated by
[specific agency personnel]. Building occupants know that in an emergency the
elevators are to be used only by people who have mobility impairments. However,
if necessary, those with temporary disabilities can also use the
- Designating areas of refuge or areas of
rescue assistance: Juillet pointed out that (while there is no such
requirement in the ADA), the Access Boards ADA Accessibility Guidelines
(ADAAG) define areas of refuge or areas of rescue assistance as a part
of the requirements for accessible means of egress. Such areas are
only necessary in new buildings. Structures with an approved sprinkler system
are an exception and do not require an area of refuge.
ADAAG has six configurations, each with
specifications for signage, communication, etc. Juillet stated her bias for
only three of these configurations: elevator lobby, exit stair landing, and the
horizontal exit (e.g., where two buildings are connected by a fire-rated
corridor (or bridge)). If an aerial evacuation (fire department equipment with
a ladder and/or a cherry picker) is utilized, be sure the equipment
can reach to room window. The rule of thumb is that the equipment can reach up
to the seventh story. However, that is only when the area below the window is
perfectly level and has a solid footing.
- Developing personal support networks (in lieu of the
buddy system): Substitute the buddy system with a personal
support system. Encourage employees to build relationships with a number of
individuals, so they will not be without assistance in an emergency. Facilitate
this through staff training.
- Carrying and lifting people with disabilities:
Participants had questions about assisting an employee who uses a wheelchair
out of a building. Kailes and Juillet recommended talking with the individual
in order to develop a plan with that person. Some people have a preference.
They said there are several choices: using an evacuation chair or carrying the
person out. Make sure people are trained on the use of evacuation chairs, and
have regular practice sessions. Carrying a person can be somewhat cumbersome
and even dangerous. Talk with the individual to determine the best way to move
them, and again, make sure to rehearse the procedure. If there is absolutely no
one available to assist the individual, instruct him or her to go to a
designated area and contact emergency personnel.
- Selecting appropriate devices: There is no one model
or piece of equipment that is appropriate for every situation or for every
individual. In fact, with regard to evacuation chairs there has been little, if
any, research. Juillet and Kailes underscored the importance of agencies doing
their own research, talking with other organizations, and working with local
One participant, for example, said his
agency found that evacuation chairs were difficult to use and required
extensive training. As a result, the agency issues them only when the person
with a disability agrees and the staff is trained. Another accommodation has
been the smoke hood. This agency has distributed smoke hoods to some people
with mobility impairments, in the event that it takes them longer to evacuate
the building. Employees have also been instructed to evacuate to other
buildings, since several are connected by passageways.
Another participant pointed out that
egress planning is complicated by the fact that federal agencies often occupy
only portions of a building, which are shared by private companies.
Coordination can be difficult unless you have a strong landlord. It was
suggested that agencies encourage landlords to use a coordinated emergency
evacuation plan as a selling point for lease of space.
Kailes cautioned that planning should not be seen as a one-time
event with beginning, middle, and end, but rather as an on-going process. An
agency plan should be viewed as a living document. If necessary,
additional plans should be developed for those who work after hours or on the
night shift. The plan must be continually revised and updated to reflect
changes in technology and procedures. Both research and practice drills are
essential to continuously strengthening a plan.
The following aspects are key to the implementation phase. Keep in
mind that an agency plan should be available in a variety of formats. The plan
should be reader-friendly (bulleted lists versus long paragraphs) and available
in languages other than English.
- Identifying employees who will need assistance during
egress: Kailes reminded participants that no one knows better than
employees with disabilities the type of accommodations needed in an emergency
situation. She stressed it is critical to keep in mind that not everyone
needing assistance will self-identify. Cast a broad net. Word questions in a
manner that encourages the greatest number of employees to respond. For
example, avoid using the word disability, since individuals with such
conditions as asthma, panic attacks, significant allergies, heart conditions,
and age-related conditions may not consider themselves disabled. However, even
the most carefully crafted inquiries will not cause all to self-identify, so
plans should take into account these individuals, as well as visitors.
Participants had questions regarding both
individuals who may be reluctant to self-identify and planning for visitors.
There are individuals who feel strongly about being identified as having a
disability or medical condition. There are also those who think they will not
need assistance. Questions surfaced regarding how to account for these
individuals. The presenters reminded attendees to be observant and take note of
who takes more time to exit than his/her peers. Plan for several additional
individuals, including guests and visitors, when purchasing devices and
training employees to assist with egress.
With regard to planning for visitors,
Juillet and Kailes recommended putting a map and emergency numbers on the back
of Visitors badges. But, as one participant explained, this could be a
problem, especially if there is a high volume of visitors per day. Agencies may
not have the funds to produce the badges. In addition, visitors may forget to
return them. However, as another attendee pointed out, the same could be said
of current Visitors badges. Some agencies use paper badges and/or ask
visitors to temporarily surrender identification. Another recommendation was
that visitors be escorted at all times. In the latter scenario, the escort
would assist his/her visitor out of the building in the event of an emergency.
- Training for both those requiring assistance and those
providing assistance: Training and cross training is essential.
Individuals (and their co-workers) needing to use emergency evacuation devices,
such as evacuation chairs, should be trained regarding their proper operation.
This will allow these employees to better direct others on the use of the
equipment, in the event that trained personnel are not available.
Keep in mind that separate training may be necessary for those who work after
normal business hours.
Some participants raised the issue of
embarrassment or self-consciousness on the part of individuals who need
assistance in egress. For example, there may be individuals who are
uncomfortable practicing evacuation procedures in a group setting. For these
employees, consider one-on-one training or trying out different evacuation
methods and devices.
- Conducting various types of drills: Juillet explained
that while conducting standard drills are important, varying the drills and
imbedding stumbling blocks is vital to helping employees prepare
for the unexpected. Both announced and unannounced drills should be conducted
several times a year. Drills should vary (evacuation and shelter-in-place) and
pose a variety of challenges, such as closed off hallways, blocked doors, or
unconscious individuals, along designated evacuation routes.
Practice also makes a difference. In 1993,
during the World Trade Center bombing, a woman could not figure out how to
leave the building until two co-workers came by and reminded her about the
evacuation chair under her desk. Human factor studies support the idea of
practice: people tend to come and go from the same place using the same route.
It is important that employees practice using the stairways, because in many
cases, they may not know the location of the stairs until they are required to
There are three types of drills: walkthrough drills, scheduled
drills, and unannounced drills.
- Walkthrough drills: These allow personnel to
discuss possible difficulties and slowly practice evacuation techniques. For
example, people might practice using an evacuation chair or carrying
- Scheduled Drills: Such drills provide an
opportunity to practice evacuating people with disabilities in a slow and
controlled environment. The procedures are methodically practiced by all.
- Unannounced Drills: It is critical that unannounced
drills occur only after scheduled drills. This ensures that the kinks are
worked out and people do not practice incorrectly. In addition, do not hold
surprise drills when emotions are high (e.g., around the anniversary of
September 11th or the sniper attacks). Juillet recommended that emergency
response staff (e.g., Floor Wardens) be notified prior to such drills, so that
they can practice their responsibilities.
There were additional questions related to
both staff and visitors participating in drills. Since there are no penalties
for not participating, many employees ignore or avoid the drills. Suggestions
included developing creative educational techniques, such as fun exercises, or
making participation in drills part of the annual performance evaluations.
Additionally, visitors may not want to be detained during a shelter-in-place
drill. Those who intended to be in the building for only a brief time (e.g.,
delivering a document), and have other commitments, may protest about
participating in such drills. Consider establishing a safe exit route for such
- Debriefing and asking for feedback: Make sure to
conduct debriefings after drills. Revise and update the plan based on feedback
then redistribute the plan. It may also be beneficial to request assistance
from a local fire department. The Arlington County Fire Department, for
example, was described as being helpful in evaluating procedures and providing
Since technology is constantly evolving, it is critical to keep
abreast of new devices and current research. The primary technology areas for
egress are alarms, elevators, and evacuation chairs.
Alarms. The National Fire Protection Association
(NFPA-72) sets the standards for alarms.
Elevators. The protocol regarding elevator use during
emergencies is changing; in fact, Juillet made reference to an upcoming
conference that will address elevator issues. Europe is developing standards
that will enable elevator use during emergency evacuations. These standards
will address fire ratings and the need for water protection (e.g., waterproof
components, safety brakes, switches).
Evacuation chairs. Kailes stated that there are no
objective evaluations or ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards
regarding evacuation chairs, leaving emergency managers responsible for
independently researching and selecting them.