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The Evacuation Problems Residents with Disabilities Face

Photo of Person Using Wheelchair

Marcus Aurelius from Pexels

It’s not enough for high-rise buildings to consider the challenges that people with disabilities face during their day-to-day lives, like finding good parking spaces. They have to consider the challenges this group can face in emergency situations, like fires. 

Read ahead to learn about the specific fire evacuation problems that residents with disabilities can face in high-rise buildings and how building management can rectify them.

The Problem: No Elevators in Emergencies

During evacuations, residents should not use elevators or stairlifts to reach the emergency exits. The power could go out in the building and leave the occupants of the elevators/lifts trapped inside.

The problem is that residents with disabilities depend on elevators and stairlifts to make their way through high-rise buildings. And taking the stairs is not a simple alternative for them. If anything, taking the stairs on their own could lead to injury and put their health and safety at further risk. 

What’s the solution? The Government of Canada’s Emergency Preparedness Guide for People with Disabilities recommends that residents who require mobility devices ask their building’s management to purchase evacuation chairs for them. 

What is an evacuation chair? A building evacuation chair is an emergency tool designed to help people with mobility issues evacuate buildings quickly and safely. The person in need sits in the chair and is secured to it with straps. Then a helper guides the chair up/down staircases toward the nearest escape route.

High-rise buildings should have evacuation chairs available for every occupant that needs them. These chairs should be stationed at the staircases closest to the relevant occupants’ apartments. 

 Person Sitting on Wheelchair

The Problem: Not Getting Out

High-rise buildings need to prepare for situations where a helper can’t access a vulnerable occupant in time and guide them outside with an evacuation chair. What preparations should management take?

  • Make a list of residents that have mobility issues and need special assistance. You can inform first responders of rooms where people will need immediate attention. 
  • Make signs with large print to signal responders for help. Vulnerable residents can put these signs in their windows during emergencies. 
  • During fire drills, prepare residents for times when they can’t leave the building during a fire. Tell them to put wet towels under the doors and cover vents to minimize their risk of smoke inhalation, and then wait for emergency responders. 

The Problem: Visual and Hearing Impaired

Mobility issues aren’t the only disabilities to consider. Building management will need to think about residents that are visual and/or hearing impaired. 

Audible warnings are very helpful for the visually impaired. Smoke alarms should be on every single floor and tested regularly to guarantee that they’ll sound off at the first sign of danger. Management can also use announcement systems to let occupants know about the location of the fire and give fire safety tips. 

As for the hearing impaired, the Ontario Building Code requires that visual fire alarms and emergency notification systems be placed in hallways of residential buildings. These are designed to aid occupants with hearing impairments who might not notice the sounds of the fire alarms.

Unfortunately, this rule only applies to newer builds. Management of older buildings should invest in updating their alarm systems to meet this standard to help their vulnerable occupants during emergency evacuations.

High-rises need to take these precautions seriously so that all of their occupants can get through emergency fire evacuations safely.