Conflict of Interest

As I read more about disaster preparedness and emergency evacuation of disabled persons, I’m becoming conscious of a basic conflict between professional advice and the concerns of the potential evacuee (me!).

The primary organizational concern seems to be that those who are able to evacuate without assistance not be hindered or harmed by efforts to evacuate a disabled person. This takes the form of:

  • “Firefighters are equipped and trained to get you down the stairs” (Simon Frasier University Fire Evacuation Procedures)
  • “Transporting of disabled individuals up or down stairwells should be avoided until emergency response personnel have arrived.” (Harvard DEAS Emergency Evacuation Procedures)
  • “Where the stairs are not wide enough for people to overtake a descending wheelchair group, wait at a Refuge Point” (Royal Holloway University, Personal Emergency Egress Plans)
  • “Should there be a student in an upper floor classroom or office who would normally use an elevator (e.g., students in wheelchairs), the faculty/staff member should escort that student to the nearest enclosed stairwell. These areas are rated for more than one hour of safety in the event of a fire. Leaving someone with the student, if possible, the faculty/staff member should exit and immediately report the student’s location to Public Safety
    and/or fire personnel.” (Dr. Joan Marshall, Director, Learning Support Services
    SUNY Oneonta)

As the disabled person, I prefer the language from the US Fire Administration’s Emergency Procedures for Employees with Disabilities in Office Occupancies: “Employees with disabilities are entitled to THE SAME level of safety as everyone else (no more/no less).”

We’ve begun talking in my group at work about putting together a plan; everyone is shocked that the official guidance might be “Leave your disabled colleague to be rescued by professionals”. As far as I can tell, disabled people in the World Trade Center towers who followed this guidance are dead.


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