Evacuations for Individuals with Disabilities

General guidelines of evacuation procedures for persons with disabilities

Here are some general guidelines of evacuation procedures for persons with disabilities during a fire and other building emergencies. They should be used in combination with the College Emergency Action Plan. Emergency exit route signs are posted in conspicuous locations throughout College buildings. Each sign identifies primary exit routes and alternate exit routes. Classroom and office phones display each building name and physical address.  

To ensure a quick exit in the event of an emergency, individuals with disabilities need to:

  • Be familiar with evacuation options (see below). 
  • Seek evacuation assistants who are willing to assist in case of an emergency.
  • Educate the evacuation assistant on guidelines for working with individuals with disabilities to provide a quick and safe exit.
  • Always carry a mobile phone for emergencies. If you are unable to evacuate a building during an emergency, it is important that you call 911 or College Police at 703.764.5000 and report your location. This will aid first responders in facilitating their evacuation from the building.
  • Practice evacuation procedures alone and with your evacuation assistant frequently.

Evacuation Options

Persons with disabilities must evacuate to the nearest safe exit.

Persons with disabilities have four basic evacuation options:

  1. Horizontal Evacuation: Use building exits to the outside ground level or go into unaffected wings of multi-building complexes. 
  2. Stairway Evacuations: Use steps to reach ground level exits from the building.
  3. Area of Assistance: Go to an Area of Assistance away from obvious danger. Once in an Area of Assistance, you should call College Police at 703.764.5000 or 911 and report your location. Emergency personnel will then facilitate evacuation. Carrying a person down a set of stairs or out of a building should only be done by trained emergency response personnel. (NOTE: An Area of Assistance is located in a building that, due to its construction, offers protection from fire or damage and can provide temporary shelter for individuals unable to exit a building until emergency response personnel arrive. Accepted Areas of Assistance include enclosed stairwell landings, exterior rooms with windows and fire-rated doors, elevator lobbies, and "fire-rated" corridors). Typically, the safest Areas of Assistance are pressurized stair enclosures common to high-rise buildings, and open-air exit balconies. Other possible Areas of Assistance include fire-rated corridors or vestibule adjacent to exits stairs, and pressurized elevator lobbies. Many campus buildings feature fire-rated corridor construction that may offer safe refuge. Take a position in a rated corridor next to the stair is a good alternative to a small stair landing crowded with other building occupants using the stairway. 
  4. Stay in Place: Unless danger is imminent, remain in a room with an exterior window, a telephone, and a solid or fire-resistant door is a viable option. Keep in contact with College Police and emergency services by dialing 703.764.5000 or 911 and reporting your location to on-site emergency personnel, who will determine the necessity for evacuation. Phone lines are expected to remain in service during most building emergencies; however, having a cell phone will enhance capabilities to communicate. If the phones fail you can signal from the window by waving a cloth or other visible object. The "Stay in Place" approach may be more appropriate for sprinkler protected buildings or buildings where other areas of refuge are not nearby or available. It may also be more appropriate for an occupant who is alone when the alarm sounds. A solid or fire-resistant door can be identified by a fire label on the jam and frame. Non-labeled 1 3/4-inch thick solid core wood doors hung on a metal frame also offer good fire-resistance.

Planning a Route

Prior planning and practicing of emergency evacuation routes are important in assuring a safe evacuation. You should become familiar with your surroundings as soon as you visit a campus or building and you should develop a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan. Additionally, you should seek Evacuation Assistants to assist you during an emergency. They provide instruction, help with relocating to an Area of Assistance, notify first responders, and provide support as necessary.

Wheelchair and Other Mobility Devices

Persons using wheelchairs or other mobility devices should move to an Area of Assistance if possible, or stay in place and call 911 or 703.764.5000 and report your present location. If the stair landing is chosen as the Area of Assistance, please note that many campus buildings have relatively small stair landings, and wheelchair users are advised to wait until the heavy traffic has passed before entering the stairway, so that they do not block others from exiting the building. Stairway evacuation of wheelchair users should be conducted by trained professionals only (ex. the fire department or other trained emergency responders). Moving a wheelchair down the stairs is never safe.

Limited Mobility 

Persons with mobility challenges, who are able to walk independently, may be able to negotiate stairs in an emergency with minor assistance. If danger is imminent, you should wait until the heavy traffic has cleared before attempting the stairs. If there is no immediate danger (detectable smoke, fire, and unusual odor), you may choose to move to an Area of Assistance, call 703.764.5000 or 911 with their location and wait until emergency personnel arrives. 

Hearing Impaired 

Most buildings on campus are equipped with fire alarm strobe lights; however, some are not. Persons with hearing impairments may not hear audio emergency alarms and will need to be alerted to emergency situations. Emergency instructions can be given by writing a short note explicitly stating to evacuate. 

Visually Impaired 

Most people with a visual impairment will be familiar with their immediate surroundings and frequently traveled routes. Since the emergency evacuation route is likely different from the commonly traveled route, persons who are visually impaired may need assistance in evacuating.