Evacuation Policies for Individuals with Disabilities

***If you are a person with a disability who may need assistance during a crisis, it is strongly recommended to establish a system now that assures you get the help you need. Work with Services for Students with Disabilities and Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) to develop an individual plan for how you will handle various types of emergency situations. If you need assistance and do not have a plan, it will be more difficult to assure your safety.***

Pre-Emergency Preparation:

Students and Employees with Disabilities

In an emergency situation, it is critical to the health and safety of individuals with disabilities that they are familiar with their needs during an evacuation. Both employees and students are expected to convey these needs to their supervisors, co-workers, faculty, fellow students, residence hall staff and/or other residents within the first week of each semester or as soon as the needs arise. The guidelines listed below are offered as general suggestions and not as an official plan of action. The safety of individuals with disabilities depends on their judgment and knowledge of general safety precautions. 

  • Be familiar with the layout of buildings and the location of exits in every building in which you work, have class or live on campus.
  • Be familiar with the distinct emergency alarm system in each building (e.g. horn, strobe lights). Contact the Office of Environmental Health and Safety for assistance or additional information.
  • Be familiar with the safest evacuation sites in each building.
  • Whenever possible, designate persons or "evacuation assistants" such as supervisors, co-workers, faculty, fellow students, residence hall staff and/or other residents to assist you during an evacuation. (See below for evacuation assistant tips and information.) 
  • Advise evacuation assistants about specific evacuation needs (e.g. use of wheelchair, breathing or stamina difficulties, etc.).

Resident students with either permanent or temporary disabilities should make their location and needs known to the resident director (RD) assigned to their building, as well as the resident assistant (RA) assigned to their floor. Because RDs and RAs may not be in the building at all times, it is also recommended that, as needed, students make their needs known to one or more students residing on the same floor in their residence hall. Identifying needs to more than one individual will help to facilitate evacuation in the event of an emergency. 

Evacuation Procedures for Individuals with Disabilities 

Horizontal Evacuation

Move away from the area of imminent danger to a safe distance (e.g. to another wing, the opposite end of the corridor or outside if on the ground level).

Vertical (Stairway) Evacuation

Stairways can be used by those who are able to evacuate with or without assistance. If danger is imminent, individuals with disabilities should wait until the heavy traffic has cleared before attempting the stairs. A stairway must be large enough for a person using a wheelchair to sit to the side without obstructing the flow of traffic as people exit the building. Obstructing the flow of traffic could place the individual with a disability and others in danger. Should individuals with disabilities decide to proceed on their own, caution should be used in negotiating the stairwells. 


Unless danger is imminent, remain in a room with an exterior window and a telephone, closing the door if possible. As needed, individuals can signal from the window by waving a cloth or other visible object. 

If possible, individuals with disabilities should also contact University Police Dispatch at 607-777-2222 during an emergency to provide them with their name, location and reason for calling. It is also important to indicate specific evacuation needs that should be considered for evacuation. 

Emergency personnel will enter the building to evacuate individuals who require assistance. 

Information for Evacuation Assistants

Below is background information on various types of disabilities that supervisors, co-workers, faculty, fellow students, residence hall staff and/or other residents should become familiar with if asked to be an evacuation assistant for an individual with disabilities. 

Blindness or Visual Impairment

  • Give verbal instructions to advise about the safest route or direction using compass directions, estimated distances and directional terms.
  • DO NOT grasp a visually impaired person's arm. Ask if he or she would like to hold onto your arm as you exit, especially if there is debris or a crowd.
  • Give other verbal instructions or information (i.e. elevators cannot be used).
  • Once to safety, orient the visually impaired person to their surroundings and determine if further assistance is needed. 

Deafness or Hearing Loss

  • Get the attention of a person with a hearing disability by touch and eye contact. Clearly state the problem. Gestures and pointing are helpful, but be prepared to write a brief statement if the person does not seem to understand.
  • Offer visual instructions to advise of safest route or direction by pointing toward exits or evacuation maps.

Mobility Impairment

  • It may be necessary to help clear the exit route of debris (if possible) so that the person with a disability can move out or to a safer area.
  • If people with mobility impairments cannot exit, they should move to a safer area (e.g., most enclosed stairwells, an office with the door shut which is a good distance from the hazard, etc.).
  • If you do not know the safer areas in your building, call University Police at 911 (from a campus phone) or 607-777-2222 (from any phone).

Individuals unable to be evacuated

  • Notify emergency responders immediately about any people remaining in the building and their locations.
  • Police or fire personnel will decide whether people are safe where they are and will evacuate them as necessary. The Fire Department may determine that it is safe to override the rule against using elevators.
  • If people are in immediate danger and cannot be moved to a safer area to wait for assistance, it may be necessary to evacuate them using an evacuation chair or a carry technique.