Emergency Preparedness: Emergency Evacuation of People With Disabilities

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Emergency Evacuation

People with Disabilities


The provisions of these sections reflect minimum requirements which are not intended to restrict owners from implementing additional measures as warranted, provided that they do not conflict with provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


The Fire Safety Director and Deputy Fire Safety Director must, at all times, ensure that the Emergency Evacuation Plan include the most updated list of individual(s) and normal floor location(s) of regular occupants who have voluntarily self-identified the need for assistance.  This list must also include the type of assistance those individuals would need to safely and swiftly exit a high rise building in the case of an emergency.


Identifying Those In Need of Assistance

  • In commercial buildings, building owners should obtain their lists from employers or tenants who have undertaken the following procedures for identifying employees or regular occupants requiring assistance in the case of an emergency:
    • All employees, after a job offer has been made, should be asked if they will need assistance in the case of an emergency.
    • To update and maintain lists, employers or tenants should survey all of its current employees or regular occupants, with or without disabilities, to determine whether they will require assistance in case of an emergency, as long as the employer makes it clear that self-identification is voluntary and explains the purpose for requesting the information.
    • Employees or regular occupants should be surveyed on an annual basis through the distribution of a confidential questionnaire asking if they will require assistance, and what type of assistance they need.
  • In residential buildings, building owners are responsible for contacting all regular occupants, with or without disabilities, to inform them of the procedure by which they may voluntarily self-identify that they need assistance, and the type of assistance they require to exit a building in the case of an emergency.
    • The method for contacting tenants should be through the distribution of a confidential questionnaire.
  • Regular occupants shall be informed of the procedure upon moving into the building and on an annual basis thereafter.
  • Regular occupants needing assistance should also be urged to contact the Chicago Fire Department to inform them of any assistance needed in the case of an emergency or to request the Chicago Fire Department Registration Card.


  • While individuals listed in the “Plan” have voluntarily self-identified that they would need assistance in the case of an emergency, the information they have provided must be kept confidential and shared only with those who have responsibilities under the emergency evacuation plan.
  • The employers or building owner shall inform all individuals who have self-identified the need for assistance that the information provided will be kept confidential and separate from the personnel files and shared only with those who have responsibilities under the emergency evacuation plan.
  • Lists must be made available to emergency personnel, but otherwise held in the strictest of confidentiality.

 The Need for Assistance

  • Once identified, individuals must be consulted about what specific assistance they would need and how it can best be provided.
  • An employer or building owner must ask individuals who indicate a need for assistance, what type of assistance they will need.
  • The employer or building owner shall meet with an individual who has requested assistance to obtain more detailed information regarding the method of evacuation.
  • Methods for accommodation and assistive devices should be selected and discussed.
    • Examples of assistance are:
      • evacuation chairs
      • evacuation assistants
      • specific information about areas of refuge or rescue
      • tactile/vibratory pagers for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and guides for individuals who are blind or visually impaired.
  • The employer or building owner is entitled only to the information necessary to fulfill its responsibilities under the Emergency Evacuation Plan.

Types of Requested Assistance

  • When individuals voluntarily self-identify that they need assistance, they will be asked to identify the specific type of evacuation assistance they need.
  • Those options may include, but are not limited to, the following:
    • Evacuation Assistants
      • For each such occupant, the Emergency Evacuation Plan shall identify an individual who is either one of the designated personnel such as FSD, DFSD, Building Evacuation Supervisor, Fire Wardens, and Emergency Evacuation Team members or is otherwise assigned to assist such occupant during an evacuation or safety drill.
      • Evacuation assistants can be either designated by the employer, tenant, building owner or selected by the individual requiring assistance, provided that the evacuation assistant selected is in agreement.
      • Scheduled emergency plan reviews should include checking the status of evacuation assistants.
    • Evacuation Chairs
      • Evacuation chairs are assistive devices in which individuals who use wheelchairs or have other mobility impairment that make the use of stairs difficult are securely seated as they are moved during an evacuation.  
      • All evacuation chairs require the assistance of at least one other individual who has been trained in its use.  
      • For more information about evacuation chairs, please refer to the Access Board website at http://www.access-board.gov or
      • Contact the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities at (312) 744-4495.
    • Guides for individuals who are blind, visually impaired, cognitively or mentally impaired
    • Tactile/Vibratory pagers for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • Description of the designated location(s) of place(s) of refuge or rescue, if any, for all building occupants in an emergency.

A Place of Refuge or Rescue

  • An area, which has direct access to an exit, where people who are unable to use stairs may remain temporarily in safety to await further instructions or assistance during an emergency evacuation.
  • Places of refuge or rescue must comply with Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines - 4.3.11 Areas of Rescue Assistance (see Appendix in Reference Guide)


  • During an emergency evacuation, signage is imperative in directing large numbers of people out of a building in an orderly fashion.
  • All signage must comply with Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines - 4.30 and Signage (see Appendix in Reference Guide).
  • Stairwell Identification
  • Areas of Rescue Assistance

After Working Hours

  • Most office fire fatalities occur outside of normal working hours.
  • Fires can grow unnoticed and persons working alone can be cut off from their normal egress route.
  • In many buildings, only a few people working late and the housekeeping staff are present at night.
  • Building managers should ensure that there is a process in place for employees who may need assistance to alert building security upon entering the building, or when remaining in the building after normal working hours.
  • Someone will then be ready to search for and/or assist the individual to safety if needed.
  • Alternatively, the person could be instructed to telephone the fire department as to their location when an emergency occurs.

Common Communication Skills & Assistance Techniques for People with Disabilities 

  • People with disabilities are frequently misrepresented due to inappropriate and unrealistic portrayals by the media. Some disabilities are highly visible, while others are invisible.
  • Following general guidelines on how to effectively communicate with people with all types of disabilities is crucial during an evacuation.
  • Regardless of the disability, however, all people with disabilities should be treated as a person - not as an object.       

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