HOMEPAGE: www.danieljvance.com



By Daniel J. Vance


  The U.S. Dept. of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) last December hosted an "emergency preparedness for people with disabilities" seminar to help safeguard the 123,000 employees with disabilities that work in federally owned or leased properties.

  This seminar for 225 senior managers in 90 government agencies was held partially because of ongoing terrorist threats to federal facilities and painful memories of the many people with disabilities that died September 11, 2001.

  Recently, ODEP sent me an "early" copy of its 80-page report on the seminar.

  Any business, government agency or school would do well to thoughtfully consider its contents. Below is my summary of but one portion of helpful seminar advice developed by Lawrence Roffee, executive director, U.S. Architectural and Transportation Compliance Board:

1)              Don't assume what people with disabilities can do in emergencies: they must be involved in planning. In some emergencies people with disabilities are tremendous assets, such as the blind employee able to safely lead others across a dark or smoke-filled room.

2)              Let your fire department know where employees with disabilities work in your facility.

3)              Talk with building managers and engineers about your communication, alarm and sprinkler systems, as well as designated areas of "rescue assistance."

4)              NEVER rely on the buddy system. It won't work because a disabled person's "buddy" may not be on-site during every emergency.

5)              For multiple-story buildings purchase special "evacuation" chairs and make plans to evacuate wheelchairs or walkers for users once they reach safety.

6)              Make emergency communications "accessible" for everyone, including blind and deaf employees.

7)              Designate an emergency "situation room."

8)              Practice your plan regularly and keep people in the loop when emergency plans change.

  Federal emergency preparations saved at least one life September 11: In August 2001, OSHA staff at Building 6 of the World Trade Center revised an evacuation plan to accommodate a wheelchair-using employee. Weeks later, the plan was executed flawlessly as three coworkers helped the wheelchair user escape harm before the North Tower collapsed onto OSHA's office.

  Said ODEP Assistant Secretary Roy Grizzard in an email to me last week: “There is no `One Size Fits All’ when it comes to emergency preparedness. [This] report will help agencies create thorough and comprehensive emergency plans that provide for an appropriate course of action for all employees in an emergency situation.”

  For more, see www.danieljvance.com or www.dol.gov/odep for a copy of the report.