It is vital to consider emergency evacuation when designing for accessibility or when making access improvements to existing buildings.

Staff and students with disabilities should be able to evacuate a building promptly in the case of an emergency. Ensuring safe evacuation in an emergency is a complex issue, requiring consideration of a broad range of factors that it is not possible to cover in detail in this document.

Some areas for consideration include:

  • The use of both visual and audible alarm systems
  • Escape doors with opening devices and opening forces designed to meet the needs of both students and staff
  • Balancing personal dignity and independence with safety and speed of evacuation
  • The risk of using lifts or evacuation chairs to evacuate people with mobility difficulties down or up to ground level
  • Ensuring that evacuation chairs are suitable for the intended users
  • Ensuring that emergency contact facilities inside lifts (phones or intercom systems) are monitored at all times that the school may be used
  • The needs of students who require personal care - for example, someone could be toileting with a carer when the alarm is raised
  • The possible impact of smoke on everybody, particularly students with asthma or other respiratory conditions in particular
  • The use of zones and compartmentation to support phased evacuation of the building
  • The use of vibrating alarms or other assistive technologies to raise the alarm for staff or students who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • The location of assembly points to be reachable by all students
  • Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) for staff and students who may need assistance during evacuation
  • Training for staff and students in the use of emergency equipment, assistance techniques, and escape procedures
  • Making students aware of evacuation procedures, which should be practiced regularly throughout the school year.

The National Disability Authority publication 'Safe Evacuation for All' gives guidance on providing safe evacuation for people with disabilities.


Figure 9 Dual Visual and Auditory Alarm System

Accessible features:

This is an example of a dual visual and auditory alarm system. When the fire alarm is activated, an alarm bell sounds and the high intensity beacon (red light) flashes.

What could be improved?

Audible and visual alarms should not necessarily be placed side by side. Sound can generally travel through walls, but light cannot night. For example, you might need extra visual alarms in bathrooms and other rooms where audible alarms are not required.


Figure 10 Emergency Escape Door

Accessible features:

This emergency exit door has a near-level threshold and an easy-to-use opening device.

What could be improved?

A fully level threshold will ensure that wheelchair users can exit the building with ease in an emergency.

Managing Evacuation Procedures

Ensure that appropriate evacuation plans are in place to meet the needs of all building users.

This will require the following actions:

  • Review the evacuation plan and safety statement to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities have been met
  • Make sure that all evacuation routes are kept clear of obstructions
  • In multi-storey buildings, get expert advice on options for using a lift to evacuate wheelchair users and people with mobility impairments
  • Make sure that safe evacuation arrangements including people with disabilities are in place when school facilities are rented out for classes or events
  • Prepare a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) for any students or staff members who need extra help to evacuate safely
  • Make sure that a PEEP is prepared for any new students or new staff members who need extra help to evacuate safely, before they arrive at the school