davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Crutches)
David Gillon ([personal profile] davidgillon) wrote in [community profile] accessibility_fail2014-09-30 04:12 pm
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Emergency Evac Fails

A friend just mentioned having done training on using evac chairs, which reminded me of all the shenanigans at work WRT me and evac plans. They're probably worth repeating to prompt everyone to give a little thought to how you would get out of your workplace (or home) in an emergency.

Personally I can do stairs, but because I use crutches I take up a lot of space, and I can be fairly slow moving. OTOH the nature of Hypermobility Syndrome means in a real emergency I'd probably just ditch the crutches and let the pain and damage catch up with me once I'm outside and safe.

Evil Aerospace Inc were fairly good about running fire drills - the rumour was they had to be as they had been told by the fire brigade our warren-like main building would be left to burn in an emergency, it would be too dangerous to send fire-fighters inside. Our office (in a separate building) had a largely open plan area about the size of a football pitch, with several hundred engineers. It was 1st floor (US 2nd floor), but it was an ex-manufacturing building with double height ceilings, so the number of stairs was more like a three storey building. There was one staircase at either end and one in the middle, so call it 100 engineers trying to file out of each.

When we had a fire drill I got into the habit of waiting until the end to start down the stairs, it was just easier than trying to walk with crutches in crowds. Then they got a bit more serious about evacuations and appointed fire wardens for each floor with yearly planning/training sessions. Ours was a good friend of mine, so I was certain my needs would be addressed. After the first training session, she came back and brightly announced:
"Dave, we talked about you, and agreed you have to wait until last to go down the stairs."

Voluntarily waiting until last is one thing, being told to do it is quite another!

"So if you're deciding when I leave the building, then shouldn't I have a formal Personal Emergency Evacuation plan?"

"Oh, no, you're disabled, but you're not that disabled!"

A year rolls around and she goes off to the next planning session.

"Dave, we just had our planning session, and we agreed I can pass you on the stairs to go and report the building is empty."

*Headdesk* *Headdesk* *Headdesk*

Later on I changed teams and was moved to one of our tower blocks, I think I was on the fifth floor - too high for me to manage without using lifts. Despite the fact I was working in QA and we had procedures for everything (and that we had the corporate bosses in the next tower over) no one ever thought to ask if I could manage to get out in an emergency (the answer was yes, just - I stayed behind one night to work out if I could manage the stairs going down).

Moral of the story: corporate attention to fire safety and other evacuation threats (we had at least one bomb scare while I was there that we weren't evacuated for, never mind the suspect device was barely 100m from our office, and a structural failure in our building that took them an unforgiveable four hours to decide to evacuate us) can vary from negligent to overly confident, none of which necessarily implies competent thought has actually gone into it. You are the only person who really understands your accessibility needs, so give some thought to how you would get out of the building if the worst happens, and if management won't address it, then maybe talk to your friends and agree a plan. If you need advice, then I suspect your local fire service can probably advise (they'll definitely prefer finding you outside when they arrive to having to go into a burning building to fetch you), and if there are really egregious safety failures then you may need to consider reporting them to the fire service/Health and Safety Executive/OSHA or local equivalents.

(Also worth remembering, issues won't stop once you're out of the building, you need to get to the evac assembly area, which in most large sites are likely to be 100m or more away, and then get home afterwards. If you need to abandon mobility equipment to get out, particularly wheelchairs if you're taken out on an evac chair, then what happens next? Obviously the ideal would be to have someone bring out your chair/whatever alongside you, but that's only practical if it's safe).

[personal profile] jazzyjj 2014-09-30 07:20 pm (UTC)(link)
Here is my evacuation plan in case of emergency: walk as far as I can on my own using my cane, and then wait for help to arrive. I should point out here that I've only been a cane user. For reasons which I believe I've already covered, it is difficult for me to travel outdoors independently for long. If there were a fire or some other emergency in my building for example, I can only either go out my apartment front door, down the stairs, and then outside for a few feet or out my apartment back door, down the stairs and then wait for somebody. If I am alone and there's an emergency such as a fire, I'd have to use my trusty cell phone and call for help. I know it might be hard to believe, but the state rehab agency here absolutely refuses to intervene. When I was in high school, they just had me go to the rotunda of the floor I was on when the fire alarm sounded. That was where everyone with a disability gathered, no matter what disability they had.
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[personal profile] lilacsigil 2014-09-30 10:31 pm (UTC)(link)
My high school had a better disability evacuation plan than that back in the 80s! We had three students in wheelchairs because we were the only school in the district with some wheelchair accessible classrooms.

If one of the wheelchair using students had a class in the one multi-storey building, each had four (strong and sturdy) fire alarm buddies and a wood and canvas chair that had been specially made in woodwork class. The student would transfer to the carry chair, two of the fire alarm buddies would carry him (they were all male students) down the stairs, and the other two would bring the wheelchair. I was one of the wheelchair carriers and we had a drill on the first day of the school year then once a term, so four times a year.
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[personal profile] roserodent 2014-10-01 06:36 pm (UTC)(link)
I cannot bear the nose-poking nonsense that goes into compiling a PEEP. I certainly have to be chased around if anyone ever hopes to catch me on my own time to have a 45 minute meeting about it, when the outcome of the meeting is always going to be "leave it with me, I'll manage".

I now have a letter from a community fire officer which explains to people that I do NOT have to take part in drills. This is because in an emergency my evacuation plan is to cause lots of pain and damage and deal with it later because it's better than dying in an inferno. If I were an evac chair user, I'd have to do drills to make sure the evac team showed up and knew what to do, but since I am entirely on my own recognizance, there is absolutely no benefit to my ruining several joints and an outfit escaping the building and then everyone is expected to go back in an *return to work*. I have had many problems explaining that if we do a fire drill and I have to take part, that's me done for the day, probably for about 72 hours. Of course, then they want to make me use evac methods that make me dependent on others so they can sign off that I know what to do (never that THEY know what to do, always the interest is in me, not the people who were supposed to help me) and so I can return to work/studies immediately. So now I refuse to say more than "I will get out, but I do not do drills, I must be informed of fire drills in advance and I will not be leaving the building". So far so good. Any arguments, here's my fire officer's card, he'll tell you that's OK.

Reflecting back to an office where we did shift work, yet I could never persuade them I needed them to appoint more than 2 "buddies" to help me out because I needed 2 buddies present and correct on the day of the emergency. With shifts, holidays and sickness, if I need 2 buddies you must appoint at least 8. Didn't get through.

Rather annoyed that abseiling (repelling) is never offered as an emergency evac option, I'm good at that, it's quick, I probably won't be hurt, my chair can go down that way too. Load me up with a rope by a window and I'll see you chumps when you make it down the stairs.

Also, think about weather. If you have a condition where getting cold is dangerous or disabling, getting hot is dangerous, or where you need constant access to a toilet, etc. where will you go? Fire drills give the impression you will be outside for about 30 minutes. In real experience, you are usually out for 3-7 hours if there has been any actual real fire found. The larger the buildling, the longer you will be outside. You may be sent home, but if you have left your house keys inside, that doesn't help!