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Emergency Preparedness For Persons with a Disability

Emergency preparedness is about being ready for what happens, learning from our experiences, and preparing better for the next event. It takes ongoing effort from all of us to create and sustain an effective emergency preparedness program. You are your own best first responder—please use the resources found on the website for the Office of Emergency Management and Business Continuity along with the information below as a resource to better understand your role in emergency preparedness at the University of Maryland, and how you can become part of and contribute to our preparedness community.

Planning: what to do before and during an emergency

  1. Know where the nearest exit, fire alarm and fire extinguisher are located.

  2. Have the campus 911 or 301-405-3333 number programmed in your phone.

  3. Sign up for the UMD Alert System

  4. Be aware of your exact location.

  5. Designate a friend, classmate or co-worker to be a buddy during an emergency. Make sure to be specific about what type of assistance you will need.

If evacuation assistance is desired, it is suggested that you:

  • Self-request assistance from two friends or colleagues at the locations you frequently visit. Indicate what type of assistance you are requesting. If physical exertion is needed, ask the buddies to verify they are physically able to assist you without harming themselves.
  • Familiarize yourself with the buildings you frequent. Practice using each of the possible evacuation routes. Check for obstacles, if possible. Remember: smoke, debris, flooding, loss of electricity, or other impediments may be present. Elevators are not safe to use for fire evacuations.
  • If you are unable to evacuate the building, seek a location that provides refuge, when possible. Call 911 or 301-405-3333 for emergency evacuation assistance. Inform another evacuee of your location. Possibilities for refuge areas:
    • Enclosed stairwells that do not impede evacuation progress
    • An adjoining building behind fire doors
    • An office with a closed door, located a safe distance from the hazard
    • Exit balconies or corridors
    • A designated area of refuge where available
    • Report to your designated assembly area
    • Notify emergency responders immediately about your location and condition in the building.

Prepare ahead of time

If on the ground floor, most people with disabilities will be able to exit safely without assistance. However, it is important to verify that individuals using any kind of assistive device are capable of successfully leaving the building, unassisted, via emergency routes.

Consider recommendations for specific disabilities when developing an evacuation plan

  • Low vision or blindness

  • Deaf or hard of hearing

  • Crutches, canes, or walkers

  • Wheelchairs (non-ambulatory)

Make sure everyone knows:

  • The evacuation route and outdoor assembly area.

  • Locations that may be used as areas of refuge for the building.

Have everyone involved practice the evacuation plan. This is the best way to discover unanticipated issues and solve them before—instead of during—an emergency.

Tips for individuals with disabilities

Individuals with vision disabilities

  • People who are blind or visually impaired need to know an evacuation route in time of emergency. It is good to learn at least one alternate route, just in case.
  • If the "buddy" system is used, the buddy should be someone familiar with the person with a disability, specifically knowing how to provide guiding assistance, and they should be familiar with the guide dog or other service animal. Additionally, back-up buddies should be recruited and trained.
  • "Buddies" should go to the agreed meeting place to look for the employee with a disability. If the employee is not found, the buddy should then immediately vacate the building.
  • Twice a year, it is good to practice leaving the building by at least one of the emergency evacuation routes. This improves familiarity of the evacuation procedures and routes for the employee, their service animals and the buddy/buddies.
  • Service animals: If the alarm is sounded, employees with service animals should always leave the building—if they don't, their service animals will learn to disregard the alarms. Additionally, never let go of your service animal.

Individuals with hearing disabilities

  • Employees who are deaf or hard of hearing should talk with UHR about possible accommodations they might need.

  • Employees who are deaf or hard of hearing should develop a buddy system.

  • If the buddy employee is leaving his/her assigned work area for an extended time, i.e., for training or conference/meeting attendance, a temporary buddy should be established.

  • Should make sure their personal phone is connected to the UMD ALERT system.

Individuals with mobility disabilities

  • In the event of an extreme emergency, employees using wheelchairs and scooters should consider alternative evacuations, including being picked up and carried out of the building. When circumstances necessitate separating the user and the wheelchair, keep the period of separation to a minimum.

  • If possible, find sufficient helpers to carry both the user and the wheelchair/scooter. When more than one flight of stairs is traversed, helpers may need to switch positions since one person may be doing most of the lifting. Switch positions only on a level landing areas.

  • When the lifting is complete, follow the instructions of the wheelchair's user and restore the manual or motorized wheelchair to full operation, then assist the user to a safe area.

  • In worst-case scenarios, it is most important to get the person out. The wheelchair/scooter can be left behind and replaced later.

Individuals with mental/cognitive disabilities

  • Regularly review your evacuation plans with your buddy/buddies, RA or supervisor.

  • Walk through different scenarios to make them familiar.

Tips for Evacuation Assistance Buddies

Know how to help people with low vision or blindness

Do the following when assisting an individual with low vision or blindness during an evacuation:

  • Tell the person the nature of the emergency and offer your arm for guidance. This is the preferred method when acting as a "sighted guide."

  • Give verbal instructions to advise about the safest route or direction, using estimated distances and directional terms.

  • As you walk, tell the person where you are and where obstacles are located.

  • When you reach safety, orient the person to their surroundings and ask if they need further assistance.

  • Ensure that a service animal is not separated from the person, if possible.

Know how to help people who are Deaf or hard of hearing

Some people who are Deaf or hard of hearing may not perceive the audible fire alarm during an emergency. Use an alternative warning system, such as:

  • Write a note to tell the person of the situation, the nearest evacuation route, and where to meet outside. (Sample script: "FIRE! Go out the rear door on your right. NOW. Meet outside on the front lawn.")

  • Turn the light switch on and off to gain their attention, and then indicate through gestures or in writing what is happening and what to do. Do not use the light switch technique if you smell natural gas in the area.

  • Give visual instructions to advise about the safest route or direction by pointing toward exits or evacuation maps.

  • Ensure that a service animal is not separated from the person, if possible.

Know how to help people who use crutches, canes or walkers:

Assist mobility-restricted people to an area of refuge or out of the building

  • Ask the person how you can best assist them in evacuating the area.

  • Consider the evacuation options and the suitability of carrying the person. Carrying options include:

    • Using a two-person, lock-arm position.

    • Having the individual sit on a sturdy chair (preferably with arms) that is then lifted and carried.

Know how to help people who use wheelchairs

Do not lift an individual while in a wheelchair. There is too much risk involved for both the lay rescuer and the non-ambulatory person (back injury, loss of control of the wheelchair and person in it, tripping, falling).

  • Note: Wheelchairs have many movable or weak parts that are not constructed to withstand the stress of lifting (e.g., the seat bar, foot plates, wheels, movable arm rests, etc.).

Be aware that some individuals in wheelchairs may have:

  • Minimal ability to move, and lifting them may be dangerous to their well-being.
  • Very little upper trunk and neck strength.
  • Respiratory conditions and/or equipment that increase their vulnerability to smoke, vapors, or other airborne toxicants.

Always ask the person having a disability what their needs and preferences are regarding:

  • Ways of being moved.
  • Whether to extend or move extremities when lifting because of pain, braces, etc.
  • Whether a seat cushion or pad should be brought along.
  • Aftercare, if the individual will be removed from the wheelchair.

If an individual is lifted from a wheelchair during evacuation:

  • Ask others to bring the wheelchair.
  • If the wheelchair is left behind, remove it from the stairwell and ensure it does not obstruct exit routes.
  • Reunite the person with the wheelchair as soon as possible, unless it had to be left behind to save the person.
  • Ensure that a service animal is not separated from the person, if possible.