Emergency evacuation for persons with disabilities and others who might need assistance in the event of an emergency


This page provides evacuation guidelines for persons with disabilities who believe they will need assistance in the event of a fire or other building emergencies.

On this page “persons with disabilities” is defined as anyone who might need assistance during a building emergency. Faculty, staff, students and visitors with disabilities who believe they will need assistance in the event of an evacuation should develop their own emergency plans and identify primary and secondary evacuation routes from each building they use.

Persons with disabilities should:

  • Be familiar with evacuation options.
  • Seek help evacuating from someone willing to assist in case of an emergency (evacuation assistant).
  • Ask supervisors, instructors, building emergency coordinators or Environmental Health & Safety personnel about evacuation options for buildings.
  • Contact Environmental Health & Safety about any questions or problems.

Most University of Missouri buildings have accessible exits at the ground level which can be used during an emergency. In some buildings, it might be possible to move into an unaffected wing of the facility rather than exit the building. However, in most MU buildings, people must use stairs to reach the exits. Elevators are not safe to use during an emergency and are usually automatically recalled to the ground floor.

Evacuation Options

Persons with disabilities should evacuate to the nearest exit or seek shelter.

There are four basic evacuation options for persons with disabilities:


  • Use building exits to reach the outside ground level
  • Move into unaffected wing of a building


  • Use steps to reach ground-level exits from the building

Stay in Place

  • Remain in a room with an exterior window, a telephone and a solid or fire-resistant door, unless danger is imminent.
  • Stay in contact with emergency services by dialing 911 and reporting your location directly. Emergency services will relay your location to on-site emergency personnel who will determine the necessity for evacuation.
  • If the phone line fails, signal from the window by waving a cloth or other visible object.

The Stay in Place approach might be most appropriate for:

  • Buildings protected by sprinklers and/or where an “area of refuge” is not nearby or available.

  • Occupants who are alone when the alarm sounds.

    • Occupants in a room where a "solid" or fire-resistant door can be identified by a fire label on the jam and frame or a non-labeled 1 ¾-inch-thick, solid-core wood door is hung on a metal frame.

Area of Refuge

  • With help from an evacuation assistant, move to an area of refuge away from obvious danger.

  • The evacuation assistant will then go to the building’s evacuation assembly point and notify the building emergency coordinator or on-site emergency personnel where the person with a disability is located.

  • Emergency personnel will determine if further evacuation is necessary.

    The safest areas of refuge are pressurized stair enclosures common to high-rise buildings and open-air exit balconies.

  • Other areas of refuge include fire-rated corridors or vestibules adjacent to exit stairs and pressurized elevator lobbies.

  • Taking shelter in a fire-rated corridor next to the stairs is safer than trying to position yourself on a small stair landing crowded with people using the stairs.

Evacuation Using an Assisted Evacuation Device

In serious circumstances, in which danger is imminent and evacuation devises such as evacuation chairs or Med Sleds are available, trained personnel can use these devices to evacuate persons with disabilities. Generally, evacuation by non-emergency personnel should be a last resort.

For false or needless alarms or an isolated and contained fire, persons with disabilities might not have to evacuate. The Columbia Fire Department will decide if evacuation is necessary and relay that message directly to the individual with a disability or via the University of Missouri Police Department.

Contact Environmental Health & Safety for assistance identifying areas of refuge.

Evacuation Guidelines

Always ask someone with a disability how you can help before attempting emergency evacuation assistance. Ask the person how they can best be assisted and whether there are any special considerations or items that they will need during the evacuation. Similarly, the choice to evacuate or not should always be made by the person with a disability; some might wish to evacuate, while other might prefer to stay in place and wait for emergency personnel. Evacuation assistance needed will vary based on the individual’s disability, the person’s preferences for evacuation and the specific type of emergency. Remember. Evacuation down stairs can be more dangerous for some persons with disabilities than staying in place and waiting for emergency personnel. So for many persons with disabilities, this should only be a last resort.

Persons Using Wheelchairs or Mobility Aids

In the event of a tornado, elevators will remain in use and can be used by those with mobility impairments. However, in fire emergencies, elevators should not be used. Persons using wheelchairs or other mobility aids should ideally stay in place, or move to an area of refuge with an evacuation assistant when the alarm sounds. The evacuation assistant should then proceed to the evacuation assembly point outside the building and tell personnel from the Columbia Fire Department or MU police the location of the person with a disability. If persons with a disability are alone, they should phone emergency services at 911 before leaving their worksite and report which area of refuge they are going to use.

If a stair landing is chosen as the area of refuge, please note that many campus buildings have relatively small stair landings and wheelchair users are advised to wait until the heavy traffic has passed before entering the stairway.

Stairway evacuation of wheelchair users should be conducted by trained professionals such as fire fighters. Only in situations of extreme danger should untrained people attempt to evacuate wheelchair users. Moving a wheelchair down stairs is never safe.

Persons with Mobility Disabilities

Persons with mobility impairments who are able to walk independently might be able to negotiate stairs in an emergency with minor assistance. If danger is imminent, the individual should wait until the heavy traffic has cleared before attempting the stairs. If there is no immediate danger (detectable smoke, fire or unusual odor), the person with a disability could choose to stay in the building and use the other options outlined above until emergency personnel arrive and determine if evacuation is necessary.

Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (D/HOH)

Some buildings on campus are equipped with fire alarm strobe lights; however, many are not. Persons with hearing impairments might not hear audio emergency alarms and will need to be alerted of emergency situations. Emergency instructions can be given by writing a short explicit note to evacuate. When possible, a plan should be made in advance with the building coordinator, a professor or colleague to ensure that a person with a hearing disability is notified of emergency alerts.

Accommodations for persons with hearing impairments could be met by modifying the building fire alarm system, particularly for occupants who spend most of their day in one location.

Person with Vision Disabilities

Most persons with a visual impairment will be familiar with their immediate surroundings and frequently traveled routes. Since the emergency evacuation route is likely different from the commonly traveled route, persons who are visually impaired might need help evacuating. Assistance can be given by offering an elbow to the individual with a visual impairment and guiding them through the evacuation route.

Person with Cognitive Disabilities

Persons with cognitive disabilities might need additional assistance in evacuation in order to understand procedures.