Safety and evacuation procedures are more important than ever — especially for the 54 million Americans with disabilities. Currently, most existing evacuation plans do not address the individual needs of people with disabilities. The dilemma is: experts are still searching for solutions to safely evacuate people with disabilities from tall buildings or other public spaces.
In response, Easterseals created s.a.f.e.t.y. first: Working together for safer communities. The new community-based outreach program is designed to make proper planning tools and resources available to people with disabilities, employers, building owners and managers, and local police, fire and emergency medical service professionals. Finding a solution is critical as more than 13 million Americans in the workforce have disabilities and another 25 percent with special needs.*
"For more than 85 years, Easterseals has worked to make our communities accessible for everyone," said James E. Williams, president of the Easterseals Foundation. "Today, we face a different challenge — making sure that people with disabilities are never in a position of being left behind."
In 2002, Easterseals, the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and fire and police professionals teamed up in eight cities (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Cleveland, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Manchester, New Hampshire) to pilot the s.a.f.e.t.y. first program, encouraging these communities to work together to help find necessary solutions.
"To make safe evacuations a reality, we are asking people with disabilities, businesses and public safety professionals across the country to implement s.a.f.e.t.y. first," said Louis Dezelan, chief, Indianapolis Fire Department. "Contact your local Easterseals or fire department for assistance. Work with employees to determine appropriate and safe plans for evacuation. Practice with frequent all-office drills and staged evacuations."
Using the s.a.f.e.t.y first resources as a guide, the first step is for businesses to work directly with employees that have disabilities and special needs to develop a personal evacuation plan. As individual needs will vary, people with disabilities are best suited to identify their specific evacuation needs. Once identified, those needs can be integrated into existing evacuation plans — likely providing new insights and essential changes to existing plans.
From data gathered in the pilot markets, Easterseals will continue their work to make people aware of solutions to safely evacuate people with all types of disabilities, including those affecting vision, hearing, development or mobility.
Easterseals encourages everyone to consider these s.a.f.e.t.y. first tips when preparing for an evacuation.
*U.S. Census Bureau, 1997