Emergency Preparedness Plans: Evacuating Persons With Disabilities

Do your emergency evacuation plans include procedures for assisting persons with disabilities?  The American Red Cross has a few tips for how to go about this on their website.  Although they seem to no longer use the term “Buddy System” it seems to me that that is what they used to call it years ago.

When I did a little research on this lately, I found many University plans that include some pretty good documentation on their “buddy system” approach for this.  I have included some of them here for you to look at for yourself.

What I have found, over time, is that even for those organizations that have a pretty well established “buddy system” in place it is usually well implemented for people who have permanent disabilities but not so much for those who may have temporary disabilities like a broken leg, recovering from surgery, or, although not a disability but a condition that may require evacuation assistance, women in their third trimester pregnancy.

I am not always up on the most recent politically correct terminology, but I know some folks who have taken to using the term, “mobility challenged individuals”.  This is probability a more apt description that would include pregnant women and other similar situations that are not disabilities but could result in the need for evacuation assistance.  I remember talking to first responders who helped with the evacuation of the World Trade Center following the first bombing in 1993 and they told me that they were surprised by the number of pregnant women requiring assistance – some of them were evacuated up to the roof top because they could not go down some 100 flight of stairs in complete darkness.  (Just an aside you may not be aware of – during the evacuation in 1993 they discovered that there was no emergency lighting in the stairwells.  People had to evacuate in complete darkness.  Not only that, but they did not know that stairwells only traversed about 30 floors, requiring an exit to a lobby area to find the next set of stairs.)

Persons with permanent disabilities are somewhat used to and less embarrassed by seeking assistance and pro-actively engaging in a buddy system program.  They can be assigned and trained with a buddy(ies) prior to an actual evacuation.  And, HR usually knows who these employees are and can solicit their involvement in these programs.  Persons with temporary mobility challenges are less likely to be aware of the program; are less likely to identify themselves as someone who might need a buddy; and, are less likely known by HR personnel.

If your program includes floor wardens, you should alert them to be aware of employees who might have temporary disabilities and train them to delicately approach these individuals to educate them on the buddy system and try to assign them a buddy until their recovery is complete.

If your organization has a buddy system in place – thank you!  If not, maybe you might want to check out a few of the links provided.  Thanks, Buddy.

Thank you for your input.