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Emergency Evacuation: Last Invited In, Forced to be Last Out

We still hear a lot about the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. For human rights activists for and with people with disabilities, it reminds us of those left behind. What happened to the people with disabilities that were in the buildings to work, shop, attend a hopeful job interview or shop for their child's birthday present?

They could not use the elevator to get to safety. All elevators shut down the minute someone discovers a fire. There were a few dramatic stories of co-workers helping their disabled friends to safety, or dying together. What happened to the rest? They, of course, were left behind.

Most disaster plans have two types of evacuations... horizontal and vertical. A vertical evacuation is most common. Evacuation plans advise people to make their way to the stair ways and walk out and away from the building. Horizontal evacuations direct people (primarily people with disabilities) to another section of the building to wait, until the crisis is over, until rescue workers come, or to die.

Obviously, vertical evacuations are better. If that were not so, everyone would move to other parts of the building.

Until architects design buildings with a universal evacuation plan, people with disabilities, who live and/or work above the second floor, need to design their own evacuation plans. Without one they may find themselves left behind. That is why we wrote this article, to acquaint you with some evacuation devices on the market.

The Evacu-Trac, manufactured by Garventa, has tracks that grip stairs securely, safety straps, and can carry up to 300 pounds. It comes with an optional steel storage cabinet. For more info on this device, call 800-663-6556.

The Evac+Chair, is light (18 pounds), with a 300 pound capacity. With it, a person can get another person out of the building. Call 212-369-3710 for further information.

The Evac-Aide is a convenient device constructed of heavy fire resistant material with reinforced webbing over the full length on each side. It has four hand loops on each side for easy carrying. It has a slick lower surface that reduces friction, making it easy to drag a heavy person out. It can also be rigged as a sling using the S hooks, (two on each end). Contact Tie Tech Inc. or call 425-743-5863 for more information on their products.

With the EvacuSled the user literally slides down the steps to safety (with the help of others guiding it and regulating its speed). It's small and can be stored under a bed or in a utility closet. Gravity helps the volunteers slide the unit, without risk of injury. To learn more about this device call 416-201-9451.

Heavy blankets or canvas, a cot or even a hand truck could also be used as an evacuation device. But a device alone isn't enough. Ask neighbors or co-workers to volunteer to help you out of the building, should an evacuation occur. Have a mock evacuation to test your device and plans.

Besides having a plan and the right evacuation device, find out if the building keeps a list of everyone who needs help leaving the building. It should indicate the floor the people with a disability work or live, so firemen know where people may be waiting for help. Certainly find out if there are any evacuation aids on your floor. Advocate for yourself and other people with disabilities in the building to get some devices if there are none.

Spend some of your advocacy efforts pushing for buildings that have a universal designed evacuation method. Until that changes, people with disabilities will always face formidable disadvantage during emergencies.

This is not an all-inclusive list of evacuation devices and manufacturers. We do not endorse one product over another. Do some investigation and check out several devices to find the one most appropriate for your own needs and situation.


For information on these and other evacuation devices, contact the Illinois Assistive Technology Profram at 800-852-5110 v/tty.

The Federal Emergency Disaster Agency developed a guide for the employers of people with disabilities. The purpose of the guide is to provide information for facilities managers and may be useful for people who need assistance being notified of an emergency and/or evacuating the building. It includes examples of equipment, suggestions on procedures and comments on some of the advantages and the disadvantages. The most current and complete information is avaiable at the Access Board's Resources on Emergency Evacuation and Disaster Preparedness webpage:

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Technotes are periodic, one-time publications produced by the Illinois Assistive Technology Program designed to address the need for information on specific services, devices and/or polices that affect users of assistive technology. Most Technotes are no longer in print, but they are still available here on our website.

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IATP is pleased to offer BrowseAloud from Texthelp Systems. BrowseAloud reads web pages out loud for people who find it difficult to read online. BrowseAloud