The head of one of the world's leading safety organizations is calling on state and local safety officials, building owners, and facility managers to take additional steps to incorporate the needs of people with all types of disabilities into emergency planning. James M. Shannon, the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) president and CEO, is urging all those involved in emergency planning to fully address the safety of people with disabilities through careful planning and training before an emergency occurs.
"We know there have been times in which people who use wheelchairs were simply left behind during emergencies without any specific direction or instruction, presumably to wait for rescue," said Shannon. "That is just not acceptable. When people with disabilities go into a building, they deserve to know that there is an effective emergency plan in place that will keep them safe. And, these plans must be developed with input from accessibility experts and people with disabilities who will be affected by the plan."
For several decades, NFPA has developed many of the exiting (means of egress) requirements that are used in buildings all across the country and around the world. These requirements include provisions mandating the evacuation or relocation procedures to be followed by all building occupants and on-site personnel, including those with disabilities.
"We simply cannot leave people who have disabilities in a building during any emergency-whether it is a fire, power failure, or bomb threat-hoping that someone will go back to assist them," said Shannon. "Clear procedures must be in place, ranging from relocation within the building to evacuation of the building. It is up to all of us involved in this issue to make sure people with disabilities are protected just as much as everyone else."
Shannon reaffirmed NFPA's commitment to work with accessibility experts to develop recommended steps and educational materials for use during emergency planning.
"As a building code developer, NFPA recognizes that more must be done to protect people with disabilities," said Kevin G. McGuire, a leading expert on accessibility and emergency evacuation requirements. "I look forward to working with NFPA and others as we strengthen recommended emergency procedures."