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Emergency Evacuation Planning
for Students with Disabilities

by Lori E Scott RN, BSN, MS


The school system has a moral, ethical, and legal responsibility to keep their community safe in the event of an emergency.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are strapped to a wheel chair on the landing of a stairwell
while of your peers and school staff exit the building, leaving you behind!

In this era of threats of violence and shootings along with fire and weather emergencies, the paramount need is effective emergency evacuation plans for students with disabilities.

Schools must design plans for the individual needs of students, including those who:

  • have physical disabilities
  • have sensory disabilities
  • may lack understanding of a situation
  • are unable to act quickly

Although Title III of the ADA broadly addresses "discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodation such as restaurants, movies and schools," most schools have evacuation procedures that call for a person with a disability to shelter in place on the landing of a stairwell and wait for EMS rescue.

School personnel and visitors with disabilities also need protection. (Update on MD HB 1061)

Preplanning is Imperative

Preplanning for natural disaster, fires, active shooter, terrorist attacks, unplanned releases of chemicals in a school is imperative in today's world.

School systems must have the capacity to move all students, staff, and visitors with disabilities to a safe location immediately at the time of an emergency.

Sheltering in place and waiting for EMS to arrive for rescue can cause extreme fright and anxiety to the person with disability. Another result could be harm from burns, smoke inhalation, or by being in harms way of an active shooter.

Mitigation (the effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters) is a crucial part of emergency planning in schools and should never allow leaving anyone behind because they are differently abled.

Robust Emergency Planning in the 504 or IEP Process

Robust emergency and evacuation planning should be part of a student's 504 and IEP process.

Schools must protect every student at risk for incompetent decision-making and physical immobility at the time of an emergency.

Comprehensive Written Plans

Emergency and evacuation planning should include a comprehensive written plan individualized to meet the student's needs. Attach the plan to the IEP or 504.

This plan should ensure:

  • full mitigation
  • practice drills
  • staff training
  • evaluation process to identify obstacles before an emergency occurs and as they arise

Schools may implement the use of a stair evacuation device, two-person lift, or med sled as a means of removing someone in need from a multi-floor building.

Staff must be trained on the use of evacuation devices. Drills must occur to ensure everyone’s safety and ability to use devices as needed.

Mobility is NOT the Only Concern

Some students may be mobile but unable to seek refuge or get themselves out of a building without one to one assistance. A successful evacuation may depend on a teacher or paraprofessional guiding the student to safety.

Staff should pre-identify and address this need in an emergency plan with the IEP team.

Parents who have children with special evacuation needs should make sure this is on the agenda for discussion at the team meeting. When a plan is complete, it should be added to the IEP or 504.

Staff and visitors with disabilities can also be at risk. School administrators and staff should develop a plan to necessitate provisions and share the information with all people concerned.

Through the entire process, the school system has a moral, ethical, and legal responsibility to keep their community safe in the event of an emergency.


Meet the Author

Lori Scott RN,BSN,MS is a Nurse working in the field of health care consulting for special needs schools and facilities. She is an advocate for special needs children and frequently speaks at National seminars regarding health services and health planning for the disabled. She is the mother of three children.


April 18, 2017: Emergency and Evacuation Plans - Individuals With Disabilities, Approved by the Governor. Students, staff and visitors to public school buildings in MD will have accommodations to assist them to get out of harms way in case of an emergency/fire.This accommodation means a Med Sled, Evac Chair or device to move people with disabilities down the stairs and out of a building immediately and with their peers. No more waiting at the top of a stairway for EMS to get them...if they can find them! Common sense bill with unanimous votes from the House and Senate!

On April 4, 2017, the MD Senate passed HB 1061. The Bill is now on the way to Governor's desk for signature.

Summary: MD HB 1061: Requiring the State Department of Education, on or before December 1, 2017, in consultation with disability advocacy groups, to update specified guidelines to accommodate, safeguard, and evacuate students, staff, and visitors with disabilities on public school grounds; requiring each local school system, on or before July, 2018, to update the local school system's emergency plan based on a specified update of the Department's guidelines and regulations; etc.

More Links

Howard County parents sound off about safety (ABC News, 02/27/18)

Emergency Evacuation Plans in IEPs - Special Ed Advocate Newsletter (04/04/2017)

Proposed bill creates task force to review school evacuation plans for people with disabilities

Evacuate Cassidy

Mother outraged by school evacuation plan for disabled student

Created 03/20/17
Revised 03/01/18

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