In our experience working with many organisations, people with disabilities are asked not to participate in mock emergency drills or they are asked to evacuate the building using the lift before the start of the mock drill.
There are many other reasons why people with disabilities get kept out during the drills – inaccessible warning systems, inaccessibility of alarms and buildings, lack of information, difficulty in communicating, losing support system, untrained personnel, and so on.
During a mock drills in a Government office in Goa, a person with disability asked the fire man how he was going to be evacuated.
The fireman said that this was just a mock drill so he could remain where he was. He then escalated the matter. The Fire Department of Goa realised that they neither had any facility and equipment nor or training to evacuate people with disabilities.
The Goa Fire Department then invited DEOC, a social enterprise working on inclusion of people with disabilities, to conduct a training for firemen in evacuating people with different disabilities. The Goa Fire Department is now planning to conduct inclusive mock drills from hereon.
The RPWD Act in Section (8) mandates equal protection and inclusive disaster management activities.
Disaster can be man made or natural. Common disasters include, fire, earthquake, riots, floods, chemical leak, etc.
In some cases one needs to evacuate the building and in some cases one needs to take shelter within the building.
Disaster management activity includes, prevention, mitigation or reduction of risk, capacity-building, preparedness, prompt response, evacuation, rescue and relief, health services, rehabilitation and reconstruction. All these have to be made accessible and inclusive.
In this blog, we are addressing preparedness, prompt response and evacuation – how these can be made inclusive particularly from an establishment’s point of view.
Following are some broad suggestions to make mock drills inclusive:
- Database of people with disabilities in the building: Every establishment should prepare a proper method to collect and maintain the data of people who need support during emergency (please read our blog post on collecting data of people with disabilities).
- Emergency Helplines should be made inclusive: Organisations have helplines for employees/visitors to contact the security in-charge during any emergency. The helplines should not only have the facility to call and send SMS, but also provide sign language interpretation to those who may require. People manning the call centres should be trained to ensure that they are able to communicate and provide appropriate assistance to people with different disabilities in case of emergency. The information about these numbers should be in accessible formats in lifts, common places, in the intranet, etc.
- Necessary infrastructure facilities should be there: Buildings should have the necessary infrastructure facilities, like appropriate ramps to exit, railings on both sides of the staircase, colour contrasting and photoluminescent strips, accessible call points, visual alarms, accessible communication, accessible refuge areas, accessible signages/announcements/maps, evacuation chairs and lifts , wheelchairs, stretchers and accessible pathways to safe assembly areas. Buildings should be audited by accessibility experts to ensure that all the facilities are available. It is not enough to have fire audits, as they do not include many aspects which are crucial for people with disabilities. Now high rise buildings have fire lifts which can be used as evacuation lift but the security is not aware nor the lift is labeled appropriately. It is also important that there are regular periodic audits to ensure their maintenance.
- Evacuation plans should be made exclusive: General evacuation plans should be made inclusive and Personalised Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEP) should be prepared for people with disabilities and those with medical conditions. They should be developed in consultation with people with disabilities and updated periodically. People with disabilities should be prioritised during emergency evacuation.
- Training of first responders: All security guards, fire wardens, emergency response teams, fire men, and friends and bodies should be trained in assisting people with disabilities and in using the specialised equipment.
- Giving training to persons with disabilities on emergency: Training should be imparted to persons with disabilities on emergency response systems that are available, procedures and routes to safe assembly areas. Sometimes there have been instances where persons with disability refused to participate in a mock drill. Hence preparing the PEEP Plan, training etc. are crucial for ensuring inclusive evacuation.
The first step towards making emergency preparedness inclusive is to audit the related policies and plans, buildings to identify the gaps if any and assessing the needs. Please reach out to DEOC for Access Audits and for making your emergency preparedness inclusive. This will not only make it safer for people with disabilities but will help everyone.