Emergency Evacuation Guidelines

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is a public institution and is covered under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The University has developed emergency planning guidelines. It is a general requirement that emergency procedures are preplanned and that planning should consider the needs of all occupants. It is therefore essential to make attempts to identify the needs of disabled people and, where necessary and possible to make proper arrangements for their assistance in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Plan Development

The following actions should be completed when planning to address the evacuation of persons with disabilities as part of the overall evacuation plan:

  • Identify accommodation needs; develop Self-identification plan for persons with disabilities who need assistance during emergency evacuation.
  • Retain a description of the information regarding persons who self-identify.
  • Investigate accommodation options; these include ideas from individual with a disability and/or emergency personnel. Planning should include assessment of equipment needed for evacuation and availability and location of Area of Rescue Assistant in the building.
  • Create a plan for communicating during emergency (emergency phone, walkie-talkie, cell phone, etc).
  • Identify and include key personnel who will be involved and their responsibility during an emergency evacuation (floor captains (if used), supervisors, building/ facility managers, person with a disability, etc.).
  • Commit the plan to writing; make necessary modifications to the evacuation plan. This should include the procedure to follow when it is not possible to evacuate people with disabilities.
  • Provide alternate formats of the emergency evacuation plan, if requested.


To determine if they may need assistance with their safe evacuation in case of an emergency, the best way to identify emergency evacuation needs for persons with disabilities is to ask individuals. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance regarding what information employers are allowed to gather when developing an emergency evacuation plan.

  • After making a job offer, but before employment begins, an employer may ask all individuals whether they will need assistance during an emergency.
  • An employer may periodically survey all of its current employees to determine whether they will require assistance in an emergency, as long as the employer makes it clear that self-identification is voluntary and the purpose for the request is to provide information to assist in their safe evacuation in case of an emergency.
  • Whether an employer periodically surveys all employees or not, an employer may ask employees with known disabilities if they will require assistance in the event of an emergency. However, one should not assume that everyone with an obvious disability will need assistance during an evacuation. The individual disabled person best understands the nature of his or her impairment.

Individuals who need assistance during an evacuation should identify and discuss with someone, in advance, who might assist them in leaving the building and/or who will inform emergency personnel of their presence and where they are located so that further assistance can be provided.

Persons with disabilities are encouraged to inform their Facility Manager of their regular presence in the building. They should provide information to include name, office/room location, phone number, type of assistance requested and/or where they are to be directed in case of emergency. If the individual with a disability has identified a buddy for assistance in an emergency, similar information of the buddy person should also be included. Information on service animals (if applicable) should also be kept along with the individual information. Facility Managers would provide information to emergency personnel and first responders during emergencies on campus. Alternate formats, such as Braille, large print, other languages, and audio format, for the personalized plan should be provided upon request. Facility Manager name and contact information can be found at http://www.fpm.wisc.edu/smoasp/FacilityName.asp

Upon request, facility managers would coordinate with UWPD to provide specific information to persons with disabilities or others who may require assistance during emergency evacuation. This may include exit routes, communication options, Locations for Area of Rescue Assistance, etc.

Area of Rescue Assistance

Many University buildings have a designated Areas of Rescue Assistance (ARA). ARA is an area which has direct access to an exit, where people who are unable to negotiate stairs may remain temporarily in safety to wait further instructions or assistance during emergency evacuation. ARA may be located in emergency exit stairwells, elevator lobbies, exit corridors, and in rooms adjacent to emergency exit stairwells and other locations as required by code. The locations must be clearly identified on emergency evacuation plans, so that faculty, staff, students, visitors and emergency personnel may easily locate them. Floor captains should always check this designated area, if safe to do so, before evacuating in order to provide complete and accurate information to emergency evacuation personnel. In some cases we have designated a specific ARA to meet individual needs. Such situations are determined on a case-by-case basis.

The ADA requires that all medical information be kept confidential. However, first aid and safety personnel may be informed, when appropriate, if an individual with a disability might require emergency treatment or if any specific procedures are needed for emergency evacuation. The faculty, staff, student, or visitor may voluntarily provide this information to Divisional Disability Representatives (DDR) if they believe it will be relevant to emergency rescue personnel.

Evacuation Assistance

Floor Captain: For those building that uses the floor captain system. The position of Floor Captain is that of a volunteer, providing aid to other building occupants, visitors and students in the event of an emergency. Floor captains are responsible for knowing all exit locations from occupied areas of their building. One of the responsibilities of a floor captain is to ensure occupants have evacuated the area. In cases where the floor captain identifies a person with a disability, or someone who needs evacuation assistance, they should either direct or escort the person to a designated ARA or escort the person from the building. If the person is unable to evacuate with assistance, the floor captain should immediately provide the name and location of the individual needing evacuation to emergency evacuation personnel.

Buddy System: Faculty, staff and students with disabilities may want to implement a “buddy system”. A buddy system involves individuals working in teams so they can locate and assist each other in emergencies. The buddy can provide limited evacuation assistance to the disabled faculty, staff or student. If the person is not able to evacuate with limited assistance (i.e. guidance, etc.), the buddy is to confirm the location of the person with the disability, and then immediately inform emergency personnel of their location. Emergency personnel are responsible for the evacuation of persons with disabilities who need assistance and are unable to evacuate safely with a buddy.

Carry Out:As stairs are often times difficult if not impossible to traverse,individuals with mobility impairments must either be transported out of the building by other means or be protected in a place awaiting arrival of the fire department or emergency personnel Individuals with mobility impairments may request to be manually transported out of the building in case of emergency. Manual techniques for lifting and/or carrying individuals require training and proper application by emergency evacuation professionals.Other alternatives must be considered given the severe risk for injury to all parties when non-emergency rescue personnel attempt to carry a person with a disability down a stairway.

Evacuations Options during Emergency

Depending upon the nature of the emergency, choose one of the following options when evacuating a building:

Vertical Evacuation: Vertical evacuation (using a stairway) is the preferred method to exit a building. All exit passageways (i.e. hallways, stairways, etc.) are marked with “Exit” signs. Stairways can be used by those who are able to evacuate with or without assistance. People with sight disabilities may require assistance. People who must use crutches or other walking aids will need to use their own discretion in deciding whether they are able to use emergency exits, especially where several flights of stairs are concerned.

Elevators may not be used during a fire related emergency. Persons with disabilities who cannot use the stairs may be permitted to use the elevator to access safe locations (usually ground floors) in other emergency evacuations such as severe weather, bomb threats or workplace violence. Non-mobility impaired employees and visitors must use the stairwell in all types of building emergency evacuations.

Horizontal Evacuation:Horizontal evacuation means moving away from the area of danger to a safer place on floor where the individual is at the time of the alarm or emergency. This type of evacuation may be required in situations where the individual cannot use exit stairs to get to the outside and must remain on a particular floor until assistance arrives. In this case, the individual should move away from the area of imminent danger (detectable smoke, fire, or unusual odor) to a safe distance (i.e., another wing, the opposite end of the corridor, or outside).

Stay in Place:In certain cases, where evacuation is not possible, and there is no ARA readily available, a person with a disability should stay in place and inform the floor captain and others of their location. This information is to be provided immediately to emergency rescue personnel. In addition, the person who stays “in place” should contact the emergency dispatcher – when calling from a UW phone the number is 911. He/she should give their present location (office/room location, floor, etc.) and the type of evacuation assistance they need. The dispatcher will relay the information to on-scene emergency personnel.


It is important that building/facility managers, buddies, and staff fully understand the evacuation plan and safety strategy for the building and fully communicate with each others in the even of an emergency evacuation. Good communication is a vital part to ensuring success during the evacuation.

  • Cell phones or walkie-talkies may be considered as the primary method of communication between floor captains, other pre-designated or assigned personnel in the building or on the ground and disabled individuals and buddies until clear from the building.
  • Many Areas of Rescue Assistance are equipped with communication systems that would allow a person who cannot evacuate in an event of emergency to notify others of their locations. Once activated the communication systems call would be routed to building control panel NOT to UWPD or fire department. Building personnel may be assisting others and may not be monitoring the call. Individuals should notify emergency personnel by dialing 911 on a campus or cellular phone to inform them of their whereabouts.
  • Persons with disabilities who require assistance to safely evacuate are strongly encouraged to contact the building/facility manager to discuss emergency procedures, identify exit routes, and provide information on their usual work or study location(s) in the building.
  • Faculty, staff or students with a disability who will need assistance during an emergency evacuation and might occupy the building after regular work hours, or at other times when staff are not usually present, should be encouraged to notify department/ building manager of their location, and provide the building, floor, room and time of their arrival and departure. This will allow emergency personnel to know their location in advance.


The final step for including individual with disabilities in emergency evacuation plans is plan maintenance. To ensure that accommodations continue to be effective, the evacuation plan should be practiced and accommodations updated periodically. The list of occupants who need assistance should be updated as building/facility managers are notified of changes. Departments will continue to invite faculty, staff and students to self-identify their need for assistance during an emergency and develop a plan for evacuation.

In addition, all equipment used in emergency evacuation should be inspected and maintained periodically to make sure that it is in proper working order.