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Personal Safety and Emergency Evacuation for Persons with Physical Disabilities

While the University of Memphis strives to create a safe campus environment and has enacted policies and procedures to that end, including holding fire drills each semester, all students should assume responsibility for their personal safety by becoming familiar with their surroundings and by educating themselves on safety measures to use in the event of fire, earthquake or hazardous chemical spill. Students with disabilities should take note of all accessible exits in each building or residence hall they frequent, check the evacuation plans for each building, and plan a strategy for each building in the event of an emergency. Residence Life staff hold meetings in each housing facility to orient students to the specific procedures for their facility. It is the responsibility of students to attend these meetings to learn the procedures and to follow them.

Emergency evacuation plans are posted in each building. In addition, DRS compiles a safety evacuation list each semester for each classroom building which includes the names of students who would need special assistance in an emergency and the time and location of their classes in each building. The list also includes the names and locations of students who live in residence halls who may need assistance in an emergency. Police Services (Main Campus and Lambuth Campus) and DRS keep a copy of the safety evacuation list for handy reference in the event of an emergency. After the last day to add classes, the safety evacuation list is compiled from students' schedules. If students drop a class or if a room number changes, they should notify DRS so the correction can be made to the list. This list works only if it is current and complete.

General Considerations for Evacuation

  1. Do Not Use the Elevator during a fire or other emergency!

  2. If your disability is of a nature that permits you to evacuate with minor assistance from another person, ask for help and evacuate at the nearest illuminated exit. If you will be evacuating at a slower pace than the standard flow of traffic, it is generally best to wait until the bulk of the traffic has exited, unless you are in immediate danger.

  3. If you use a wheelchair and need to evacuate from a floor other than ground level, proceed to the nearest illuminated exit sign. In most cases, this will be an enclosed stairwell that can provide protection until rescue personnel arrive. When most of the traffic has cleared, enter the stairwell landing and wait for the Fire Department or Police Services personnel. Doors to the stairwell should be kept closed. The average response time for the Fire Department to arrive on campus is generally three to seven minutes, depending on the specific campus location. All stairwells are routinely checked by Fire Department personnel in emergency situations.

  4. Unless you are in immediate danger, do not allow untrained people to carry you down the steps. Doing so can present hazards of a different nature. In the event of immediate danger, if there is not time to wait for trained rescue personnel, be prepared in advance to explain to your helpers the best way for them to carry you to safety, depending on your personal circumstances. Remember that wheelchairs have many moveable parts and vulnerable points that are not constructed to withstand the stress of lifting.

  5. Depending on the nature of the emergency and how it is being controlled, the Fire Department may determine that you are not in any danger and need not evacuate. Only Fire Department personnel have authority to make such a decision. In some instances, Fire Department personnel may determine that is safe for you to be evacuated by elevator, but again, only Fire Department personnel have the authority to make this decision. Do not use the elevator for evacuation unless you are instructed by Fire Department personnel to do so.

  6. If you have a cell phone, you may wish to pre-program the U of M Police Services 901-678-HELP number (901-678-4357) into your phone; this is the same location you will reach if you call 911 from a campus phone.

Faculty and Staff Responsibility in Emergency Evacuation

  1. Ask if any of the students in your classroom, office or other campus location need assistance evacuating. For example, students who are blind or partially sighted may need assistance in being led down the stairs or out of the building, especially if the nearest exit is different from the one they have been trained to use. Many of the campus buildings do not have visual alarms to alert students who are deaf to an alarm and some persons with hearing impairments will not have enough residual hearing to hear audible alarms. In this case, the faculty member would need to communicate with the deaf student about what is happening. If an interpreter is present, explain through the interpreter the nature of the emergency and give instructions for evacuating the building. In other situations, the safest method of communicating is to write a short, explicit note telling what the emergency is and the nearest evacuation route. For example: "Fire alarm! Go out rear door to right and down stairs."

  2. If there is a wheelchair user in the classroom, wait for the bulk of the traffic to clear, escort the wheelchair user to the nearest stairwell landing and instruct them to remain there until Police Services or Fire Department personnel are on the scene. Make sure the fire doors to the stairwell landing are closed after everyone else has exited the building. If there is no immediate danger, it is advisable for the faculty member or one of the assigned building emergency monitors to wait with the student. Fire Department personnel will make the decision about whether they need to be evacuated and whether it is safe to use the elevator. If they need to be manually evacuated, Fire Department personnel will do it. If there is no enclosed, fire protected stairwell and there is no immediate danger, the wheelchair user should remain in the classroom with the door closed until emergency rescue personnel arrive and determine the necessity of evacuation. If there is immediate danger in the classroom, the wheelchair user should be moved to another room farther away from the emergency. If a campus phone is available, it is advisable to call Police Services at 911 and notify them of the location of the wheelchair user. If a cell phone is available, call 901-678-HELP or 901-678-4357, which also connects to Police Services. Again, it is advisable for the faculty member to stay with the person as long as there is no immediate danger.