Emergency Procedures for Persons with a Disability

Emergency Preparedness for Persons with a Disability


Planning: What to Do Before and During an Emergency:

  • If evacuation assistance is desired, there are two options for establishing an emergency evacuation buddy. Determine which option works best for you:
    • Self- Request assistance from two friends or colleagues at the locations you frequently visit.  Indicate what type of assistance you are requesting.  If physical exertion is needed, ask the buddies to  verify they are physically able to assist you without harming themselves.  
    • Assisted - buddy assignment can be arranged through the Office of Emergency Management.  Email a assistance requests to oem@ucsc.edu.  In this request, indicate your work or study locations and schedule, and your residential location if applicable. Indicate what type of assistance you are requesting (i.e. guidance toward an exit, someone to walk with you).
  • Familiarize yourself with the buildings your frequent. Practice using each of the possible evacuation routes. Check for obstacles, if possible. Remember: smoke, debris, flooding, loss of electricity, or other impediments may be present.
  • If you are unable to evacuate the building, seek a location that provides refuge, when possible. Call 911 for emergency evacuation assistance. Inform another evacuee of your location. Possibilities for refuge areas:
    • Enclosed stairwells that do not impede evacuation progress
    • An adjoining building behind fire doors
    • An office with a closed door, located a safe distance from the hazard
    • Exit balconies or corridors
  • Report to your designated assembly area for a head count.
  • Notify emergency responders immediately about the location and condition of any people remaining in the building.
  • Do not reenter the building until authorized to do so by an appropriate authority such as police, fire department, etc.

Requesting Evacuation Planning Assistance 

You may contact the Office of Emergency Management for assistance in preparing a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan.  Volunteers supporting this plan are not trained first responders, they cannot provide lift or carry assistance.  An Assistant Volunteer can escourt you to safety when possible.  

Prepare Ahead of Time

  • Consider recommendations for specific disabilities when developing an evacuation plan. See considerations for:
    • Low vision or blindness
    • Deaf or hard of hearing
    • Crutches, canes, or walkers
    • Wheelchairs (non-ambulatory)
  • Make sure everyone knows:
    • The evacuation route and outdoor assembly area.
    • Areas of refuge for the building.

Have everyone involved practice the evacuation plan. This is the best way to discover unanticipated issues and solve them before — instead of during — an emergency.

Tips for Evacuation Assistance Buddies

Know How to Help People With Low Vision or Blindness:

Do the following when assisting an individual with low vision or blindness during an evacuation:

  • Tell the person the nature of the emergency and offer your arm for guidance. This is the preferred method when acting as a "sighted guide."
  • Give verbal instructions to advise about the safest route or direction, using estimated distances and directional terms.
  • As you walk, tell the person where you are and where obstacles are located.
  • When you reach safety, orient the person to their surroundings and ask if they need further assistance.
  • Ensure that a service animal is not separated from its master, if possible.

Know How to Help People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing:

Some people who are deaf or hard of hearing may not perceive the audible fire alarm during an emergency. Use an alternative warning system, such as:

  • Write a note to tell the person of the situation, the nearest evacuation route, and where to meet outside.
    • (Sample script: "FIRE! Go out the rear door on your right. NOW. Meet outside on the front lawn.")
  • Turn the light switch on and off to gain their attention, and then indicate through gestures or in writing what is happening and what to do. Do not use the light switch technique if you smell natural gas in the area.
  • Give visual instructions to advise about the safest route or direction by pointing toward exits or evacuation maps. 
  • Ensure that a service animal is not separated from its master, if possible.

Know How to Help People Who Use Crutches, Canes, or Walkers:

  • Ask the person how you can best assist them in evacuating the area.
  • Consider the evacuation options and the suitability of carrying the person. Carrying options include:
    • Using a 2-person, lock-arm position.
    • Having the individual sit on a sturdy chair (preferably with arms) that is then lifted and carried.
    • Read about Evacuation chairs below for more information on safely transporting non-ambulatory individuals during an evacuation.
  • Assist mobility-restricted people to an area of refuge or out of the building.

Know How to Help People Who Use Wheelchairs:

Follow these recommendations when planning for and assisting people who use wheelchairs:

  • Do not lift an individual in a wheelchair. There is too much risk involved for both the lay rescuer and the non-ambulatory person (back injury, loss of control of the wheelchair and person in it, tripping, falling).
    • Note: Wheelchairs have many movable or weak parts that are not constructed to withstand the stress of lifting (e.g., the seat bar, foot plates, wheels, movable arm rests, etc.).
  • Read about Evacuation chairs below for more information on safely transporting non-ambulatory individuals during an evacuation.
  • Be aware that some individuals in wheelchairs may have:
    • Minimal ability to move, and lifting them may be dangerous to their well-being.
    • Very little upper trunk and neck strength.
    • Respiratory conditions and/ or equipment that increase their vulnerability to smoke, vapors, or other airborne toxicants.
  • Always ask the person having a disability what their needs and preferences are regarding:
    • Ways of being moved.
    • Whether to extend or move extremities when lifting because of pain, braces, etc.
    • Whether a seat cushion or pad should be brought along.
    • Aftercare, if the individual will be removed from the wheelchair.
  • If an individual is lifted from a wheelchair during evacuation:
    • Ask others to bring the wheelchair.
    • When the wheelchair is left behind, remove it from the stairwell and ensure it does not obstruct exit routes.
    • Ensure that a service animal is not separated from its master, if possible.
    • Reunite the person with the wheelchair as soon as possible.


Forms to Establish a Evacuation Assistant:

  1. Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan for Persons with Access or Functional Needs
  2. Volunteer Agreement Form
  3. University of California, Santa Cruz Volunteer Waiver and Election of Workers’ Compensation Coverage


See Also