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Emergency Management 15


Recommendation

Texas should update state agency emergency evacuation plans for disabled employees.


Summary

The National Fire Protection Association recommends that each state agency have a fire or emergency evacuation plan for disabled employees, but many of these plans may be outdated and inadequate.[1] The September terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC emphasized the need for immediate, safe evacuation of all employees, including those who need special assistance. According to the Texas State Fire Marshall’s Office, there is no standard fire or emergency evacuation plan for disabled employees in state agencies because each agency’s building location is configured differently.[2] If more than one agency occupies a building, the procedures are different for each agency.

The Texas State Fire Marshall’s Office can assist agencies and school districts with developing evacuation plans for disabled persons. Agency evacuation coordinators are responsible for developing an evacuation plan and should:

  • Assign a fire warden and backup for each area.
  • Make the fire warden responsible for notifying firefighters of wheelchair-bound employees and their locations in the building.
  • Designate a meeting place for division employees away from the building.
  • Inform all employees of the designated meeting place.
  • Post maps of building evacuation routes in prominent places.
  • Train new staff in evacuation procedures.

On the national level, The Access Board, an independent federal agency that reviews accessibility for people with disabilities, recommends state agencies do the following to ensure safe evacuation of employees with disabilities:

  • Purchase evacuation chairs for wheelchair-bound persons.
  • Make two-way radios available to fire wardens and safety personnel.
  • Conduct more evacuation drills.
  • Coordinate evacuation procedures with building staff and fire marshals.[3]

To help agencies and school districts develop an emergency evacuation plan for disabled persons, The Access Board has a checklist at its Web site, http://www.access-board.gov/adag/checklist/EntrancesExist.html to identify access to buildings and facilities.

The Comptroller’s office uses directives from the State Office of Risk Management to assist the agency’s Additional Duty Safety Officers (ADSOs) in evacuating persons with disabilities. Each ADSO is responsible for facilitating the emergency evacuation of employees from his or her floor and division. Each division has two ADSOs appointed by the manager. They receive training and a manual that includes instructions for transporting disabled persons down stairwells.[4]

One problem that arises for state agencies is how to identify disabled employees. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) has confidentiality restrictions that prohibit identifying disabled employees if they do not volunteer this information.[5] The Texas Department of Human Services (DHS) is requiring the agency security manager to maintain a list of persons needing assistance in evacuation situations. A DHS spokesman said this list is kept in a sealed envelope and given to Fire Department personnel when they arrive at the evacuation command post.[6]

State agencies should review their existing evacuation plans for disabled persons and update them as needed. One important ingredient for any emergency evacuation plan is to establish clear-cut lines of authority and responsibility for persons to make decisions. A good evacuation plan will have as its primary goal the safety of employees.[7]

Emergency evacuation plans should be tested frequently. State agency staff should encourage employees who may need assistance during an evacuation to voluntarily add their names to a list that is kept confidential. All agency staff should know the location of their designated meeting place during an evacuation and managers should appoint a staff person to take a head count of every division. Agency administrators can encourage staff to be part of a “buddy system” to assist disabled employees.

Some state agencies may be able to set aside an area of rescue assistance. The Access Board explains these are areas which have direct access to an exit where people who are unable to use stairs may remain temporarily to wait safely for assistance.

School districts with disabled students or employees and students with special needs should take similar action to update their emergency evacuation procedures.

State agencies, especially those in older buildings, should use a new plan to thoroughly evaluate evacuation plans for disabled employees. Schools should focus on children in special education and children with disabilities. Existing resources may be used for the evaluation, but state legislation, bonds or appropriations may be needed for building improvements.



Fiscal Impact

Updating evacuation plans for disabled state employees and students can be done with existing resources. Resources would be available from the Texas State Fire Marshall’s Office, disability interest groups and the federal government.


[1] National Fire Protection Association, Life Safety Code, 2000 edition.

[2] Interview with Orlando Hernandez, program manager, fire safety inspection office, Texas State Fire Marshall’s Office, Austin, Texas, October 8, 2001.

[3] Interview with Bill Botten, accessibility specialist, The Access Board, Washington, DC., October 10, 2001.

[4] Interview with Mike Turner, support services, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Austin, Texas, October 10, 2001.

[5] Interview with Janet Bray, ADA coordinator, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Austin, Texas, October 10, 2001.

[6] Texas Department of Human Services, Emergency Evacuation Procedures – Winters Complex (working draft) (Austin, Texas, October 2001), p. 8.

[7] Phil Guerra, “Preparing for Disaster: Can Your Firm Survive?” The Legal Intelligencer (July 3, 2001), p. 7.