Research Request: Emergency Evacuation Protocol


As part of your membership benefits, the Alliance staff provide research services for local government member submitted requests. Topics can range from pressing issues to emerging trends. This benefit is made possible through our partnership with Arizona State University Marvins Andrews Fellowship

Request Prompt:

 “We are looking for information on emergency evacuation of a four-story City Hall, with sections in multiple areas: How is the need for wheelchairs identified for these types of emergencies and how are the employees and public with a need for wheelchair assistance evacuated? What is done during an evacuation if there are not enough wheelchairs available for transporting those that cannot walk to a safe assembly point? Are there alternative checkpoints/assembly points identified for those that cannot walk farther distances? What guidelines or policies are used to determine this checkpoint? How are those who will assist in evacuating staff or public who need wheelchairs identified? (Volunteer-based, assigned, etc.) Is training provided/required for these individuals? Is there a recommended stair-accessible wheelchair that is typically used for these types of emergencies? Or is there a mandated brand/style/model of equipment?” 

Summary of Findings: 

Government Regulations 

Department of Justice Building Accessibility Standards 

Access Board 

Fire Safety Evacuation Planning 

Fire safety evacuation planning is a critical component of life safety. Evacuation plans and procedures should address the needs of all facility occupants, including those with disabilities. Various products are available that can facilitate assisted evacuation of people with disabilities in emergencies. Mobility aids, such as emergency stair travel devices, also known as evacuation chairs, are available to transport people unable to use stairs. These devices are designed with rollers, treads, and braking mechanisms that enable a person to be transported down stairs with the assistance of another person.  

The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA),, has developed consensus Standards for emergency stair travel devices through the American National Standards Institute (RESNA ED-1:2013 – American National Standard for Evacuation Devices – Volume 1: Emergency Stair Travel Devices Used by Individuals with Disabilities). It is important that evacuation chairs be located so that they do not obstruct required means of egress. 

US Department of Labor 

Guidelines for serving individuals with disabilities during an emergency which involves use of stairs or stairwells 

An addendum to the Framework of Guidelines: Preparing the Workplace for Everyone 

(Created by the Interagency Council's Workplace Subcommittee) 


Stairwell usage during an emergency is for the safe evacuation of personnel, as well as access for emergency responders. In order to be as prepared as possible for the needs of everyone, the emergency plan must consider those persons needing extra assistance, as well as the responders assisting them. 

  • People with disabilities should be consulted and be part of the decision-making process with regard to the evacuation plan when possible--particularly when related to emergency movement in stairwells. 

  • Evacuation chairs are not a singular answer to evacuating employees with mobility impairments. Because people have different needs during an emergency evacuation, consult with employees with disabilities to determine what kind of evacuation device would work for them. While many types of evacuation and transport chairs exist, there are no established standards for these devices. 

  • Planning for the use of evacuation chairs must be based on a person's location and the staff available to assist during an emergency. (e.g., certain evacuation chairs only descend stairways, so they would not be helpful for a person in evacuating from a basement or parking garage) 

  • For some emergencies (e.g., fire, hazardous material or viral outbreak), the proximity of the hazard to the people who must be evacuated will determine what would be the best response. In cases in which there is a significant distance between the person and the emergency, alternate means of evacuation, horizontal evacuation, and areas of refuge may be an alternative to evacuation through the stairwell. (In the case of hazardous material emergencies, pressure ventilation, filtration control, air control and HVAC systems may be factors in the decision to evacuate.) 

People with disabilities may need additional assistance evacuating if stairways are a part of their evacuation route. A multi-faceted approach, including evacuation devices, wheelchairs, transfer devices and staff support, may be required. 

  • Plan for a person's personal mobility either as soon as they exit the stairwell or once the evacuation is complete, particularly for personnel with mobility impairments. (Employees may need to go home or return to the office once the evacuation is complete.) Many transportation chairs and evacuation devices do not allow for independent mobility of the person being transported. In such instances, the person with a disability would need an assistant to operate the device. 


Plan Examples: 

Stanford University  

Guide for Assisting Individuals with Disabilities in an Emergency 


Prior to an emergency, as a supervisor, manager, and/or emergency coordinator who works with a staff or faculty member or student with disabilities or who is in need of special assistance in their departments, areas or buildings, you should take the time to consider those with special needs when developing an evacuation plan and consider the following information when creating this plan: 

  • Contact Information: Frequently communicate to all personnel the need for updating contact information and request that anyone requiring evacuation assistance self-identify their needs and discuss their personal evacuation plan. 

  • Electronic and Telephone Information: Ensure contact information of personnel includes any alternate means of communicating information (e.g., email, phone/text, etc.). 

  • Communicate and Document Special Needs: If an individual has self-identified their need for assistance, emergency coordinators should discuss any logistics related to an individual’s plan and document special instructions (e.g., location of Area of Refuge or stairwell, request to be assisted using an evacuation chair, etc.) in emergency plan documents. 

  • Buddy Systems: Suggest a buddy system with a friend or colleague who can alert individuals of an emergency, check with them, or assist them as needed. 

  • Assess Emergency Route for Barriers: Ensure that the path of travel to the Emergency Assembly Point (EAP) is wheelchair accessible (step-free). 

  • Alternative Communication Methods: You may have a person who is blind, or visually impaired in your area; consider alternative methods of identifying EAP (e.g., large print sign, calling out location, etc.). 

  • Areas of Refuge: Identify and be familiar with the location of the Areas of Refuge and/or designated stairwells where a wheelchair user can wait for assistance during an emergency. 


If an emergency strikes, it is critical for everyone to take appropriate and deliberate action. If you observe a person with a disability having difficulty evacuating, remember to ask if assistance is needed before taking action. Inquire how best to assist the individual and whether any precautionary measures need to be taken or items need to accompany the person. Consider the following suggestions when assisting individuals with disabilities in an emergency: 

Individuals Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision 

Communicate Nature of Emergency: Describe nature of emergency and the location if relevant, and provide simple instructions for exiting the building. 

Offer Assistance: Offer your arm to assist with guiding the individual. 

Verbally Communicate: Provide details about where you are going and any obstacles the person may encounter along the route. 

Communicate and Orient: Once at a safe location, orient the individual of their location and inquire if further assistance is needed before leaving them. 

Service Animal: Ensure the service animal is not separated from the individual and realize that the animal may be anxious or acting out in an emergency. 

Individuals Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing 

Alert Individual: Turn the lights on/off or wave your arms, or touch the person on the elbow or shoulder to gain their attention. 

Communication: Face the person, speak clearly and/or indicate directions with gestures.  Alternatively, and with time permitting, write a note with evacuation instructions. 

Assist as Needed: The individual may need to be escorted outside of the building if information cannot be clearly communicated. 

Individuals With Mobility Limitations – (non-wheelchair user) 

Ask if Assistance is Needed: Inquire if they are able to evacuate using the stairs themselves or with minor assistance. 

Ensure Clear Path of Travel: If debris is present, it may be necessary to clear a path to the exit route. 

No Immanent Danger: If there is no immanent danger, they may choose to remain in the building or wish to be directed to an Area of Refuge or stairwell until emergency personnel arrive. 

Immanent Danger: If danger is immanent, use a sturdy chair (or one with wheels) to move the person or help carry them to safety using a carry technique, or, if available, an evacuation chair. 

Mobility Aid and Device(s): Ensure any mobility aids or devices are reunited with the person as soon as possible. 

Notify Emergency Personnel: Ensure you notify emergency personnel immediately of any individuals remaining in the building and of their location. 

Individuals With Mobility Limitations – (wheelchair user) 

Discuss Manner and Preferences: Non-ambulatory persons’ needs and preferences vary widely and therefore require you to ask them how they would like to be assisted. 

Evacuation Chair(s): Know if an evacuation chair is available in the building, its location, and how to operate. 

Wheelchair-User on the Ground Floor: If the individual who uses a wheelchair is on the ground floor, they may choose to evacuate themselves with minimal assistance. 

Ensure Clear Path of Travel: If debris is present, it may be necessary to clear a path to the exit route. 

No Immanent Danger: If there is no immanent danger, they may choose to remain in the building or wish to be directed to an Area of Refuge or stairwell until emergency personnel arrive. 

Immanent Danger: If danger is immanent and the individual does not wish to be removed from their wheelchair, direct them to the nearest Area of Refuge or stairwell and notify emergency personnel immediately. 

Carrying Wheelchair Users: Most wheelchairs are too heavy to manually carry down stairs so if the person wishes to be carried down the stair(s) (without their wheelchair), consult with them on the best carry options, e.g., two-person cradle carry, office chair evacuation, or, if available, use an evacuation chair. 

Mobility Aid(s) and Device(s): Ensure any mobility aids or devices are reunited with the person as soon as possible. 

Notify Emergency Personnel: Ensure you notify emergency personnel immediately of any individuals remaining in the building and of their location. 

Individuals with Psychological Disabilities 

Observe Behavior and Assist as Needed: Note that alarms, smoke, and/or crowds may be overwhelming and offer assistance. Speak calmly and avoid touching the individual without permission. 

Provide Reassurance: Ask how best to help and offer to stay with the person if needed once evacuated. 

University of Maryland 

National Fire Protection Association- 

NFPA Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities 


Video Example: 

Products to Use: 


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