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University of Missouri

Emergency Evacuation for Persons with Disabilities and Others Who May Need Assistance In the Event of an Emergency


This appendix provides evacuation guidelines for persons with disabilities who believe they will need assistance in the vent of a fire or other building emergency. On this page, “persons with disabilities” are defined as anyone who may 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 their primary and secondary evacuation routes from each building they use.

Persons with disabilities should:

  • Be familiar with evacuation options.
  • Seek evacuation assistants who are willing to assist in case of an emergency.
  • Ask supervisors, instructors, building emergency coordinators, or Environmental Health & Safety about evacuation options for buildings.
  • Contact Environmental Health & Safety about any questions or problems.

Most MU buildings have accessible exits at the ground level floor that can be used during an emergency. In some buildings, it may be possible to move into unaffected wings of a building rather than exiting. However, in most MU buildings people will need to use stairways to reach building exits. Elevators cannot be used because they are unsafe to use in an emergency and are normally 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.

  • Horizontal
    • Using building exits to the outside ground level
    • Going into unaffected wings of multi-building complexes
  • Stairway
    • Using steps to reach ground level exits from the building
  • Stay in Place
    • Unless danger is imminent, remaining in a room with an exterior window, a telephone, and a solid or fire-resistant door.
    • With this approach, the person may keep in contact with emergency services by dialing 911 and reporting his or her location directly. Emergency services will immediately relay this location to on-site emergency personnel, who will determine the necessity for evacuation.
    • Phone lines are expected to remain in service during most building emergencies. If the phone lines fail, the individual can signal from the window by waving a cloth or other visible object.
    • The Stay in Place approach may be more appropriate for sprinkler protected buildings or buildings where an “area of refuge” is not nearby or available.
    • It may also be more appropriate for an occupant who is alone when the alarm sounds.
    • A "solid" or fire-resistant door can be identified by a fire label on the jam and frame. Non-labeled 1 3/4 inch thick solid core wood doors hung on a metal frame also offer good fire resistance
  • Area of Refuge
    • With an evacuation assistant, going to an area of refuge away from obvious danger.
    • The evacuation assistant will then go the building evacuation assembly point (Appendix A) and notify the Building Emergency Coordinator or on-site emergency personal of the location of the area of refuge.
    • 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 possible areas of refuge include: fire rated corridors or vestibules adjacent to exit stairs, and pressurized elevator lobbies.
    • Taking a position in a rated corridor next to the stairs is a good alternative to a small stair landing crowded with other building occupants using the stairway.
    • For assistance in identifying Areas of Refuge, contact Environmental Health & Safety.

For false or needless alarms or an isolated and contained fire, a person with a disability may not have to evacuate. The decision to evacuate will be made by the Columbia Fire Department (CFD). The CFD will tell the individual their decision or relay the information via the University of Missouri Police Department (MUPD).

Evacuation Guidelines

Mobility Impaired – Persons Using Wheelchairs or Similar Mobility Aids

Persons using wheelchairs or other similar mobility aids should stay in place, or move to an area of refuge with their assistant when the alarm sounds. The evacuation assistant should then proceed to the evacuation assembly point outside the building and tell CFD or MUPD the location of the person with a disability. If the person with a disability is alone, s/he should phone emergency services at 911 before leaving her/his worksite to tell Emergency Services which area of refuge s/he is 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 area.

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

Mobility Impaired - Non-Wheelchair

Persons with mobility impairments, who are able to walk independently, may 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 may choose to stay in the building, using the other options outlined above, until emergency personnel arrive and determine if evacuation is necessary.

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 may 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.

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

Visually Impaired

Most people 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 may need assistance in evacuating. The assistant should offer their elbow to the individual with a visual impairment and guide him or her through the evacuation route. During the evacuation the assistant should communicate as necessary to assure safe evacuation.