Welcome everyone from far and wide where you might be coming from today for joining us on this program. The title and the session today is focused on emergency preparedness in the work place. It is officially titled as "Planning for Emergencies in the Workplace: Inclusion of People with Disabilities." We are pleased today to have with us Brian Parsons, who is an advisor for employment policy, employer policy at the Office of Disability Employment Policy for the U.S. Department of Labor. I will do the introduction in a minute. This is a collaborative program by the network of 10 regional Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Accessible Information Technology (IT) Centers, also known as Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers. This is a program offered on a monthly basis on various topics under the ADA. Today is our third topic in the series of four on reasonable accommodation. And the first two sessions we have covered issues related to things like best practices for employers with reasonable accommodation, hot topics such as pre-employment testing and leave as an accommodation, and next month we will end the series with a look at and review of resources out there for employers. I will give you more information at the end to remind you about that session. Remember that this session is being recorded as the operator said. The program will be available on the Internet for review, both the audio recording being posted on the website, www.ada-audio.org, within a few days of the session. The transcript of this program will be edited and posted within 10 days of the session on the website. You should be able to go back and review anything in the past. In preparation for this program you were directed to documents prepared by the Department of Labor and Office of Disability Employment Policy. Brian will talk more about that. Hopefully you had a chance to look at that. There is a lot of information out there on the Internet and other places around emergency preparedness. But little has been primarily focused in the area of employment, and that is what we are hoping to direct people today to that particular issue and topic. So without further adieu, I will go ahead and introduce Brian and let him get started. We will stop after Brian''s comments and offer an opportunity for people to ask questions. We do encourage you to save your questions up and be prepared to challenge Brian or get clarification on things he may have said. So without further adieu, let me introduce Brian Parsons. He has been the advisor for employer policy within the Department of Labor for a little over three years. He leads the work of a policy team that looks at issues and barriers that employers face related to hiring and accommodating and advancing employees with disabilities. They have been working on this issue of emergency preparedness in the work place for a period of time. He chairs the interagency subcommittee on emergency preparedness in the workplace, which was created under an executive order by the President. His work in the area was recognized through the Secretary of Labor''s 2005 Exceptional Achievement Award, which is a great accomplishment and also bodes well for the importance of this particular topic as it rises within the Department of Labor. He is also, prior to joining the Department of Labor worked as the director for Virginia Board of People with Disabilities, for a number of years. President of the National Consortium of Developmental Disabilities Council for a few years from 2000 to 2002. He also was involved in some recognition by the state of Virginia for his work related to people with disabilities, specifically in the state of Virginia. I think we have with us today a very qualified speaker. Mr. Parsons''s background from educational perspective, he has a master''s degree in urban and environment planning, public administration from the University of Virginia, and his bachelor''s degree is from Washington University in Environmental Sciences, so he also has a good understanding of the environment and that prepares him for this particular topic. I will go ahead now and turn over the session to Brian. Go ahead.
Okay, thanks Robin. Thanks to everyone for tuning in today in various modes of dryness or wetness no matter where you may be. We are in the snow here in D.C. for the spring. Well, what I am going to do today is really focus on the elements related to an inclusive emergency plan, establishing an inclusive emergency plan from an employer perspective. My comments are based on, or are coming within the context of as Robin mentioned, the President''s executive order, 13347 issued in July of 2004, which really charged the federal government to work with all levels of government and the private sector to ensure the people with disabilities were part of the process of thinking about this issue, obviously through both man made and natural disasters and emergencies. There is a tremendous amount of work to do. We look at things like the results of hurricane Katrina. We see the issue spanning everything from preparedness on the one to recovery on the other. What we will talk about today is preparedness in the workplace. Looking at it from an employer and employee perspective. Within the framework of the executive order, there was establishment of an interagency council across federal government. I have the pleasure of serving as the chair of the subcommittee on the workplace. We went about our work in the past year, the first thing that we set about doing was assembling the various effective practices that have been employed by federal agencies. And our starting point was federal agencies because we want to ensure as we move outward to federal, state, local and private sector that the federal government is speaking from a place of experience and not in a preaching mode only. So we went about collecting these effective practices and assembling that in the form of what we call a framework of guidelines, which was part of the resource package that Robin sent out in advance of today''s call. So hopefully if you haven''t had a chance to look at it yet, please do. I will be speaking right from that. The framework of guidelines is intended to be in fact a launching point for organizations to take a look at their plans for inclusiveness of people with disabilities. Implicit in this is the idea of involving people with disabilities at all phases. You will hear me say that throughout the presentation. It is important to point out that this framework of guidelines is essentially an evolving document. We had to take a point in time to assemble what was going on, what was proven to be effective and evolve it. So the inevitable will happen. As we go forward with the document, new techniques and experience will emerge which we need to reflect in subsequent iterations. We have a good starting point now. Let me start by talking about the necessity of a workplace preparedness plan. From the legal considerations perspective. Within the federal sector, of course, we have requirements governing workplace preparedness related to what the general services administration and other agencies that prevail upon the federal work place. What I will do for today''s discussion is put things more in context of the state, local and private sector for you to be able to sort of see where I am going with this. Let us take a look at the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA specifically. What we see here is although the ADA does not require employers to establish an emergency plan, if they don''t already have one, it is implicit within the ADA that if the employer has an emergency plan in place that it be inclusive of people and employees and visitors specifically, with disabilities. Within the ADA accessibility guidelines, we see the practices established of ensuring that new construction, for a building for example that does not have an approved sprinkler system, there need to be areas of rescue assistance established, accessible means of egress, and accessible signage and alarm systems. These are kinds of things that ensure sort of the basic pieces of communicating the nature of the emergency and trying to move individuals to safe locations and ensuring that in fact evacuation locations can be established. Let us take a look a little bit about the commitment of an organization to preparing the workplace. One thing we have seen in working with a variety of organizations is the awareness among senior staff, awareness at the executive level is absolutely critical. Businesses with the most successes in this area, it is starting with the CEO level, literally, because otherwise disability tends to be taken for granted. It is something where it does not occur to folks to be thinking in terms of the explicit involvement of people with disabilities within the emergency planning process. There are a variety of ways that senior management can affirm this commitment through communications within the organization to ensure that it is known by all levels of the organization, that there is a commitment to involving people with disabilities. This should be done and could be done overtly, as well as more discrete ways of working with individual concerns that respect individual privacy. I will talk about that in a minute. It is important that the employer is looking at the plan as not something that just sits on the shelf, but is something that actually is an evolving document that after practice and testing you have an opportunity to assess it. That disability lends in terms of how to employees with disabilities fair during the practice is something that should be brought into the assessment of how it went. Up front in terms of developing the emergency plan, there are great important pieces related to soliciting input from a variety of disability angles. There are specific aspects of emergency preparedness considerations that relate to people with physical, sensory, cognitive disabilities. So it is important to be looking at the plan in overall applicability by striking up communications within the bounds that are set out in terms of communication with individuals from all perspectives. It is important to look at consulting with first responders, both before, during and after the establishment of the plan and after practices. One thing that often is taken for granted in preparing a plan by an organization is the need to look at the relationship of that planning effort to the organizations that either share the same building or that share a same common space outside the building. So, for example, if an evacuation plan calls for employees to assemble in a certain location and an adjacent organization is planning the same, there could be obvious conflicts. There are a variety of resources at the local level to access in terms of an employer involving the disability community, larger than just the employee base, but also thinking, we found a number of businesses and agencies in federal government that have looked outside to the community itself for guidance in this area. Some of these areas include disability advisory committees within the organizations. The larger businesses have oftentimes have affiliation groups, oftentimes employees with disabilities are one of those affiliation groups and can be accessed for guidance in the emergency preparedness area. There are national disability organizations and local affiliates that, a whole array of those, that employers can look to for guidance in that area. There are a lot of online resources too, by the way. National Organization on Disability has an outstanding website related to emergency preparedness. So I would call your attention to nod.org for that one. The state vocational rehabilitation agencies, centers for independent living, local government committees and state level governor''s committees on disability are tremendous resources related to capturing that disability perspective. There are also veterans specific organizations, increasingly important at a time when we have veterans with disabilities returning from the warfront and these issues will be front stage and center. And obviously an array of local, I was going say an array of state and local ADA resources. That is a network largely we are talking about today. Let us take a look at the uniqueness of local office buildings. As you start to move beyond large buildings and more into mixed use buildings, you have all kinds of interesting and somewhat concerning things that emerge when it comes to developing a plan. You have, for example, the need to take a look at the location of the building relative to traffic patterns, relative to construction and security barriers, within government circles at least. This increasing trend towards security barriers is one that can pose egress issues for employees with disabilities as they are seeking to evacuate a site. It is also important to look at the building traffic flow within the building itself. Oftentimes there are mixed uses within the buildings. You might have organizations where you have got significant traffic from the street, individuals, customers, if you will, who are coming literally from parking or street areas. You have other organizations that may not have a direct customer base who are just more focused on a single office environment. But they are all sharing the same office building. So, working together across pieces of the building to ensure that there is a coordinated effort in terms of evacuation is important. And communication with first responders. One of the unique pieces I guess we will call it, of our age in which we live is not only the traditional thought about evacuation in terms of fire or bomb threat, things like that, but also unfortunately the need to prepare for hazards that relate to external to the building and the need to secure employees inside the building. So this term is known as sheltering in place. Particularly we see within some of the high sort of risk areas related to, for example, Washington, New York City, the west coast, and Chicago. A lot of the cities you have seen in the news for whatever reason there is thought that there may be some targeting in terms of terrorist activity, these are areas where incredibly enough we may be thinking about the need to shelter people within the building. So some things to be thinking about in terms of shelter in place. There need to be multiple communication methods to reach employees. Employees with disabilities access information in a variety of ways. Blind people, deaf people, people with mobility challenges are all looking at information from different perspectives. So redundancy in communication means is really critical. Also, the need for retaining, for example, medical supplies by employees. Employees should be encouraged across the board to be thinking about those key supports or supplies that they often use in the workplace that would be helpful in terms of a several hour scenario where a shelter in place would be required. Let us take a look at specifically how to evaluate employee and customer needs. Collecting disability related information from an employer perspective is somewhat of a mystery. Fortunately we have guidance in this area. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has developed guidance specifically to employers on how to collect information, medical related information, that could be of help to the few folks that need to be particularly informed during an emergency preparedness mode. And there are several phases for, in which the employer can collect this information. I would like to touch on these. Post job offer prior to employment, there is an opportunity for employers to ask all incoming employees the same questions around do you need assistance at the time of emergency. That raises an interesting point about the term disability in terms of emergency preparedness. Because we in our work here have been encouraging employers to be thinking in terms of those that would need assistance rather than categorical medical or disability kinds of labels. Even folks that have temporary conditions because of, say, a broken bone or recovering from surgery or pregnancy or other kinds of things that may affect one''s ability to move and evacuate or shelter differently than normal, that those are all conditions that would qualify as essentially needing assistance in time of emergency. So employers can ask prior to all employees coming on board whether they need that kind of assistance. On the job, employers can, again treating everyone equally, ask the workforce whether or not individuals would like to self-identify as potentially needing assistance in time of emergency. And employees with obvious quote unquote obvious disabilities, EEOC guidance talks about employers being able to ask a person whether or not they would need assistance in time of energy. Again, I will stress that in any of these scenarios the employer should collect this information and share it only with individuals within the emergency preparedness and response network so that we have confidentiality of that information. Let us take a look at a little bit of equipment decisions. Oftentimes employers are thinking immediately in terms of disability and emergency in terms of equipment. This oftentimes is a good thing to be thinking about. It is oftentimes an immediate lightning rod. Equipment can be very helpful. But it can also be something that needs to be approached with a lot of consideration. Let us talk about some of those points. Fortunately there are a lot of resources out there related to the kinds of equipment, and I will be naming resources at the end of the presentation, that could be of help in identifying equipment that would serve the purpose of, for example, evacuating an employee with disability. But they must recognize as employees'' needs differ, so does the equipment differ. So matching is not unlike the typical discussion of reasonable accommodation, the key is to match the individual need to the equipment. There are pieces that come into consideration like architectural realities, budget constraints, even, for example, the distances of stairwells and very specific physical pieces of the building that come into play as equipment is being considered. It is also important if equipment is purchased, an evacuation chair, for example, and there is leading types out there, that training be provided across several key staff that are in touch with the individual with disability during most of the time of the day, so that in the case where the equipment needs to be used, you have people who are aware of how to use it and have been trained in terms of practice in how to use it. This brings me to an important point related to how to ensure that an individual with disability is most empowered to make the decisions and take the responsibilities as an employee. We encourage this, the concept of the establishment of personal support networks as opposed to a traditional single buddy system where a person with a disability has a quote unquote buddy in the workplace. If you think in terms of a single buddy, this is subjecting the individual to possible risk. Oftentimes an individual employee with disability may be anywhere within the workplace within the office environment at the time of the emergency. It is important that several people are conversant and comfort able with the assistance needs that that individual with a disability has. Again, we talk about the need for this concerted training that would be required. So, it is really tough from an employer perspective to sort of give that time needed for people to work together to be able to train in this regard. But we have seen situations where, I will point out an example with the twin towers in New York on September 11th. There were a few cases where individuals with disabilities had gone through a series of training activities with their employer and with their colleagues and were successful in evacuating the building under those horrendous circumstances largely because those plans had been practiced and that the colleagues had been engaged in that process. Let us talk about service animals for a moment. Increasingly we have employees and visitors to office environments that are utilizing service animals. So, it is important for employers to recognize that the individual and the service animal are a team. So, wherever possible, the team should be kept together. This includes the practice times. So that you have the service animal in the mode of going through the planned exercises as well as unplanned exercises. It is possible for a service animal to become disoriented in time of emergency. So what we recommend and what we have seen employers establishing with employees are alternative or contingency plans if the service animal becomes disoriented at the time of emergency. Once again that personal support network of colleagues can be very helpful in this situation. It is also we have seen increasing practice where the use of the service animal is something that is made, the knowledge of that is made aware to the local first responders. So there is awareness that there is a service animal working within the office environment. Something that helps the first responders to be thinking accordingly. And interestingly enough, when we were talking about shelter in place scenarios, when you are going to shelter with a service animal for an extended period of time, even retaining some small portion of extra food on hand for the service animal could be something that should be thought through. Let us talk some about communicating and distributing the plan and how important this word communication is in all aspects of emergency planning. It is important to ensure that all employees are receiving information about the emergency plan with the same frequency and the same level of detail. So, if it involves needing to actually spend a little bit of time to sit down with an employee, for example, who may have an eyesight disability, and working through the layout of the building and walking individuals through various alternative exit scenarios and letting somebody walk through that in their mind and paint a picture of that in their mind, that is an important piece. Having information regarding an emergency plan available in alternative formats so that it is available electronically, in print, so that signage throughout the building is in an accessible format, these are things that help an employer to ensure that an employee with a disability can leave quickly. Also an interesting side note to that, as a general principle, when preparations are made for employees with disabilities, what we have heard employers say in real scenarios of fire and evacuation et cetera is that the extra care taken in communication as signage to reach employees with sensory disabilities is helpful to everyone. Hence, the title of this document, preparing the work place for everyone. Because during an emergency, those are the times in which all our senses are impaired to one extent or another by the circumstances themselves. Along these lines holding meetings in accessible locations so that employees with disabilities can attend regularly and that sign language interpreters are available for these important discussions. Now, as we shift into, we have gone beyond developing the plan, let us talk about implementing the plan. Employer responsibilities. Well, I think it is important for the employer to be thinking very specifically about the inclusiveness of their discussion, of their planning, to ensure that no unintended segregation has been occurring throughout the planning process, to involve people with disabilities at all stages. Considering all requests for reasonable accommodations. As I mentioned, it is interesting that an employer may for the first time be thinking about disability and emergency preparedness within the context of an individual bringing forward a reasonable accommodation request related to emergency preparedness. So if that is the first time that an employer has thought about the issue, then sort of thinking more broadly about it could be helpful for all employees that are within the work place. There are circumstances where there may be concern by the employer that an individual based on practice, for example, this is where practice is key. In a practice scenario, if a person with a certain assistance need is unable to evacuate as quickly or is moving through an area of egress or down a stairwell more slowly and yet there is sort of a stacking up that is happening as a result of that, then it is possible for the employer to be encouraging the employee to be thinking about the experience of the practice and reflecting on what that experience says about what the assistance needs are. So, really trying to respect the privacy of the individual, at the same time looking at the larger flow of traffic and employees who are leaving the building. That is the balance act that is really important here. When to request assistance, let us talk about the employee side now. I will give you some thoughts about when an employee we would encourage that employee come forward to an employer and talk about, I have a need for assistance. Limitations that have to do with walking or using stairs. Reduced stamina or fatigue. If somebody finds that they have emotional or cognitive disabilities. Vision or hearing loss. Temporary limitations of, I have spoken to the idea that this creates sort of a need for assistance generically more than a disability category per se. And even thinking in terms of employees who have specific needs for technology or medications. This could create a need for assistance in time of emergency. In terms of working with first responders. A lot of employers have found it best to proactively notify first responders, both about the general nature of the emergency preparedness plan, and then also specifically indicating that there are individuals with disabilities working within the office environment. Within the federal circle, we have seen situations, for example, the U.S. Access Board actually is able to communicate their employees with disabilities assistance needs in a central location, so that first responders are able to know immediately upon arriving on site that the nature of the kinds of assistance needs that are present in the building. It is important to point out that first responders are going through a variety of important prioritization pieces. They are thinking in terms of terms of human safety in the context of quickest possible methods of extracting individuals from the building. Thinking through a number of different scenarios about the nature of the emergency, the type and the scope of the emergency. So there is a lot of sort of interface between what the first responder is thinking coming onto the scene of an emergency and what the individual with a disability may be thinking. Encouraging people to work together up front in those discussions is very important, because they are coming from a couple different angles on that. In terms of areas of refuge or rescue assistance. I talked about the idea that within new construction for areas that do not have approved sprinkler systems, we have this requirement in place. It is important to be thinking about elevator use in time of emergency. We have been trained culturally to be thinking about elevators as being categorically out of service at the time of emergency. Oftentimes they are recalled to the lowest floor when the emergency alarm is sounded. However, employers are finding, depending on the specifics of the building, it is increasingly possible to make creative use of elevators in moving all individuals out of the building. I am speaking to you from the Department of Labor headquarters building in Washington. We have been able to establish elevators here within this building that because they are of steel and concrete construction and able to withstand fire to various standards, we have been able to figure out scenarios where in most cases where you can isolate the location of the emergency, we can have individuals with disabilities on all floors moved off the floors using the elevators and out of the building. So we have essentially an everybody out policy for this building, just as sort of an example. Emergency notification systems. I mentioned before this importance of redundancy in communication. Organizations that have layers of communication. And even communication thought through in terms of not being dependent upon electronic or electricity is going to be important. Because oftentimes that is the very one piece that is taken for granted in time of emergency and when there is a power outage related to an emergency, then all those communication systems that were previously relied upon break down. Accessibility of emergency notification has two pieces. It has to do with the timeliness and clarity of communication. Because if the communication can reach the employee with disability at the same time and with the same clarity that it is reaching employees generally, then we have achieved accessible when it comes to notification. It is important that systems be put in place to communicate with employees who may be away from their desk or in a different location within the office. We have seen employers issue text pagers or other kinds of devices, even blackberry devices to employees with disabilities to ensure that we have some realtime communication going on, of course, that is going to be relying on the electronic, electricity means that I was mentioning earlier. But as a first line, that is a pretty good approach. Then we work on secondary communication mechanisms. Let us talk about practice and maintenance of the plan. Practicing and drills are absolutely critical. The agencies that have made the most success and those that have success during time of real emergency are those that undoubtedly have practiced and taken that time, as grueling as it is, to do both the scheduled and unscheduled practice. So I think having the employer establish a policy for lack of better words, some written commitment to carrying out practice on a regular basis needs to be part of the plan. That establishes the accountability between the employer and the employee. And ensuring that people with disabilities are part of that practice. And feedback be solicited specifically to find out how that experience was. Let us take a look finally then at evaluating the success of the plan. It is important to point out that no plan is ever really complete. By nature, the emergency plan is an evolving document. So it gets implemented, practiced, then re-evaluated and revised. And I will sort of quote from a traditional part of a comment that is made by those of us in the disability community, to say nothing about us without us. This is true of emergency preparedness. Being a part of the emergency plan development process throughout all stages is critical. Let me point out a few additional resources for you to be thinking about. I mentioned the context for today''s discussion was the interagency council on emergency preparedness and disability that the Department of Homeland Security is responsible under that executive order for being the coordinating entity. And so, you can take a look at www.disabilitypreparedness.gov, that is one site. That is just disability preparedness together, dot gov. Also the reference to the resource that was sent out in advance, specifically our subcommittee within that council has developed the frame work of guidelines that I have been talking about today. That is located at www.dol.gov/odep/programs/emergency.htm. And finally I would like to let you know that I would be very happy to answer any questions that anybody has about this afterwards, I am going to go ahead and open things up in a moment for questions from the audience. First, I will give my contact information. E-mail is email@example.com and my phone number is 202-693-7858. I thank you for your attention. I would be glad to answer any questions you might have.
Go ahead. Take yourself off mute. Let us move on, they seem to be having trouble.
It is off.
OK, go ahead. We are still not hearing you.
Just a minute. I will listen to it and tell you what it is. The question is that this woman was told that the fire department will go to the floor where there are people that need to have assistance. Is that factual?
Do you know what they mean by that?
Can the questioner be more specific please.
If people have a disability and are located on the upper floors, they are supposed to stay on those floors until the fire department comes to assist them.
Okay. This is going to depend on the uniqueness of each individual office space and each individual employer within that office space. There are oftentimes areas of refuge that can be established safely near, for example the stair well. And with the idea that first responders will reach individuals there. We would encourage employers however to be thinking in terms of an everybody out approach. I think after September 11th, quite frankly, the whole field of looking at people with assistance needs and time of emergency has shifted things toward being able to evacuate in real time with everybody else as quickly as possible. I think I would encourage the questioner to take up a conversation with the employer about what the possibilities are within that office space. To see if there are evacuation possibilities, out of the box thinking, the use of the elevator for example as I mentioned earlier, those things as well as having the rescue assistance areas.
The fire department has basically indicated that they really didn''t need to be involved in the drills, but they would be glad to overview our plan. Is it normal for fire departments to be involved in a drill? Or is that acceptable to have them not participate?
It seems to vary. We would encourage employers, we know a number of circumstances both in government and private sector where first responders come to the office and speak with the employer and then employees as part of the planning process. I guess it is going to vary from place to place as to what you hear from their ability to make that kind of commitment to come to your location. We have seen it happen a lot. It could be that within larger office buildings where employers work together to coordinate their emergency plan, then a single visit from the first responder could reach multiple employers with one discussion. That is one strategy for doing that.
My name is Dan with Miami-Dade Office of ADA Coordination. Can you hear me?
Sure, go ahead.
We dealt with the problems of evacuation chairs, et cetera, the question of evacuation chairs. We don''t have a good way of getting people out of tall buildings. We are in a 30-floor building. And some of the issues that we dealt with with evacuation chairs had to do with who are they going to be available to? How many do you have? We found we have as many as 8 people per floor who would not be able to climb stairs in case of an emergency or go down stairs. One question is how do you determine if you have more people who need them than you have evacuation chairs, especially if you have some who are employees and some who may be visiting the building? Who is going to be able to get out with the chairs? And in light of that, if you have a reasonable accommodation request from a person with a disability on an upper floor of a building, and the accommodation request is for an evacuation chair, how would you address that?
Okay. I will tell you how we have seen some employers address that, and that is through doing sort of a two-layered approach. Being able to look at the evacuation of all employees, which includes as many people with disabilities as possible using the means available, using lower cost means of evacuation. For example, there are, and I have to say this before I speak to specific devices, I have to point out that there are no established standards based on research for recommending one device over another right now. That is part of the problem. But we have seen employers take an approach of locating, for example, life sliders are relatively inexpensive devices that literally are like a toboggan to move individuals quickly down stairwells. Those could be purchased for relatively low cost and could serve as a sort of last resort piece for multiple people needing evacuation right away. As well as having a specific device available like an evacuation chair that could be available for an employee who has the most significant mobility need. The other thing I would recommend is again looking at the use of the elevators. We have seen more attention given to moving individuals up, laterally across the floor of a building, and then using elevators on an opposite side of the building still in service. You could avoid one side of the building still having elevators being used on the other side. You have more of a chance of getting multiple employees with disabilities using those elevators that are still in service.
Yeah, I know that it is a big debate that is out there and on of the calls that we get often deal with this issue of balancing, you know, how many do you have? You know, if you have 7 employees who could use an evacuation chair. Do you, no matter whether it is low cost or not, how many do you have? And do you have enough people who are available to assist using them? That is the other issue. The other one that comes into play is what is the liability associated with employees who do assist other employees and become injured. Or the potential risk of injuring somebody while using this equipment. What if you have coworkers not willing to use the equipment and such? We have had many discussions in different venues we have been involved with emergency personnel. They are very typically anti-use of lay people using evacuation equipment. So that becomes another balancing with your local fire departments or emergency responders with the desires of a particular entity to use those things, yet local responders not supporting the use of those. Operating off the contact that we hear all the time is do no harm. The fear of having these evacuation devices is people who use them when they don''t need to. Potentially putting people at greater risk instead of staying in place. If a building is on fire on the 10th floor and you are on the 30th floor, you may not need to evacuate. Everyone is aware of things like 9/11 and what happened. And people on other floors not being able to get out. Consequences of those things. It brings up debate and discussion. Doesn''t seem like there is a clearcut absolute answer to any of this.
Right. We did some things that they were not practical for tall buildings. Smaller buildings, two and three floor buildings seemed to be more practical.
When you take 30 floor down to the 1st floor, what does it take in energy and expend it. The other debate that comes up is what happens in the event of using those devices in the stairwells when you have massive other people also exiting. What is the impact of kind of the panic situation? When you do a drill, everyone is sort of relaxed and laid back and they are kind of more going through the motions. But in an actual emergency situation, will people behave the same and will you potentially end up with almost a stampede or a different kind of an effect. It is a huge debate.
Right. The other piece to that is some of the concerns of first responders related to those evacuation devices have to do with the type of stairwells that are being used in that particular office. Because those devices could be blocking in a lot of cases the first responders are using a path up the same stairwell where people are going town. You would be going down, would you not have room for the piece of equipment and for the first responders to get through. It is specific to the circumstances of that individual building.
Next question please.
We have a question here. Can you hear us?
The question is goes back again to elevators, if a building is equipped with an elevator, with the fire lockout systems in place, such as smoke heads that will disable in event of a fire, but the elevator is operational. is it okay to use it in that situation?
Yes, increasingly elevators are being thought of as an evacuation means. Oftentimes we are becoming more sophisticated at being able to isolate the nature and location and severity of the incident itself. Information is the power here. If the first responders and the emergency personnel within the building know more about the nature of the emergency incident itself, where it is happening, how confined or not confined is it, the severity of it, nature of it, that enables more possibilities to happen in the rest of the building not being affected by the incident, namely the use of elevators in those other areas. That is what we see employers being able to ensure that they understand. It is very difficult to get that sort of information. It requires internal communication in time of an emergency to identify the nature of that incident. That frees up the elevators on the other side of the building.
Another quick question.
Service animals. If an individual works in a location and for whatever reason they are separated from their animal and something occurs that requires them to evacuate the building, and I am talking significant distance, would the expectations be that they get out without the animal? Or would the expectation be that you try to join that individual with the animal to evacuate?
I think, again, the who would be the key here. From a first responder perspective I venture to say the priority would be placed on getting out the individual as soon as possible. Ideally with a service animal, but if the animal were separated to moving the person out. We have the same concern or debate within the issue of people who use mobility devices. Because if you bring somebody out who is using a mobility device, you bring them out. Now they have been separated from their device within the building. That is left there. It has not been evacuated. Now the person is essentially stranded once they have come out. So the same issue is going to happen. If the team is separated, the service animal is behind, you have the loss of the ability of the person on the ground. However, looking at it from first responder perspective, the person''s life has been saved. I think ideally you try to keep the team together. You work on scenarios where you could even acknowledge that a service animal could be disoriented. Then you try to move them out together if at all possible.
Potentially maybe also going back up and getting the service animal, if reasonable, without putting another life at risk.
Right. I would say, again that would be a call probably the first responders would make in terms of if the paths to be able to go up and do the rescue would still be possible. It would be a tremendous, almost of life changing importance of the person with disability relying on the animal with the rest of their life outside that building.
Next question please?
Hi, Robin. I have a question here from an individual that has attended this. They are asking for any suggestions for working with people with cognitive disabilities who refuse to leave the building or go to a shelter place during a drill.
I touched on this earlier as far as the need for having to the extent possible individual discussion with the person and then the other piece is we found that some of these issues can be mitigated by having practices happen where the person becomes sort of reflective on their own ability or their own assistance needs in getting out in an evacuation or coming to a shelter situation. There is obviously going to still be situations where somebody is refusing to practice or is really not able to reflect on their own assistance needs. I would suggest that sort of work around or additional discussion by the employer or the colleagues related to in a scenario where we have an emergency, can we still provide the opportunity for a network to help this person in that time of emergency. As was mentioned earlier, we are behaving in different ways in nonemergency circumstances. Within an emergency human behavior being as it is, the individual may choose differently to need assistance at that point. Where the reality of it was not in place in the practice phase.
We have organizations that have implemented plans where they have a call system set up that might have used cell phone numbers in order to communicate during emergency situations, but then we were faced with situations such as occurred in New Orleans and in areas of Florida where even the cell phones were out for a period of time. What means have you found that might be able to address those kinds of communications situation?
One of the things that you see increasingly, and I think Katrina did a lot to the whole circumstance there did a lot to sort of bring forward some of these new strategies so maybe there is a silver lining in the horrendousness of that situation. One of those is the establishment of call in phone lines or call in phone message locations so that employers as part of a continuity of operations plan for an employer to be thinking about if there is a disaster on the scale of where we can''t even literally get into the building or cannot account for our employees, do we have a 1-800 ideally toll free kind of answering capability within something that is not even located physically within that affected area where people could be calling into identify their current status, where messages from the employer could be posted in terms of rendezvousing or getting back in contact with people. We saw this happening during Katrina. So even though that itself is relying on powered communications obviously, what you find is that opens up more possibilities because people who are able to finally find a way of calling in, they can call to a central location established by the employer and be able to identify their current status and the employer be able to leave messages for them. The same things used on the Internet as well, once people were able to gain access to the Internet, there were virtual spaces set up to try to match people including employers and employees.
I think communication is always one of our more difficult scenarios. We have become a communication dependent society. We have walkie talkies to cell phones and Internet and such. When those systems do become impaired, because of emergency situations where telephone lines, cable lines and cell towers and things of that nature are no longer operational, sometimes we need to get back to the good old fashioned way of doing things, having check points where there is a relay system or something of that nature, where people are communicating and planning for that. Not have only one mode of communication as part of your plan.
Next question please.
Are the plans available for agencies, they want to create their own plan.
Examples you mean?
I think they want to create their own plan.
Right, but they are looking for examples?
Did you understand that question Brian?
Yes, I would encourage individuals to check out the resource I mentioned before on the National Organization on Disability emergency preparedness initiative, EPI, which is on their home page of nod.org. They have a wealth of information about how to get started in developing a plan. And connections from there to sort of model plans and things to be considered in developing a plan. Once a plan has been established or there is folks who are accountable for having that plan in place, then the kinds of considerations that I have been talking about today within the frame work of guidelines, that gives you real examples of the kinds of things that agencies have actually thought through in establishing their plan to make it inclusive of people with disabilities.
Okay. Next question please.
Am I on?
Yes. You are.
I have one quick comment on the person from Options. I used to manage group homes with cognitive disabilities. I know that is a regular problem. We used to have, we used to do an correction procedure. It was really rewarding and you take everybody out of the house and have the person do it over and over again, but get a good reward when they got out. That is the only thing I can think of that works, because otherwise they have to move out of the home if they can''t, but it is worth the effort.
Thank you for the comment.
Another thing I am thinking of was evacuation chairs. We moved into a new building in Boston, we met with the first responders here. It doesn''t seem like the evacuation chairs, like they were saying earlier with the huge numbers of people that need them, they suggested the buddy system here. I think really the matter of making our own plans. I don''t see how we are going to do it any other way. It is not like a typical organization with one or two.
I think any organization again, Brian can respond to this too. Any organization has to examine this issue because if they are only thinking about those that have obvious or physical disabilities, look at the broader spectrum of people that may require or need accommodation, even those entities that don''t consciously think about the fact that they may have a large number of people with disabilities still have the same issues you are struggling with. You know because it is part of your philosophies and your employees, you know that they have these disabilities. Too many employers don''t explore these issues. They only think of the obvious disabilities. A person with the hip problem or heart disease may have similar issues and the employers aren''t thinking about them. Brian you have thoughts?
Yes, I agree. Again going back to the idea of the circumstances of that unique building. It could be that given the type of office environment and the numbers of folks that are even just known to have assistance needs then looking at it in terms of a series of preferential options and scenarios is a way to. Areas of rescue assistance where first responders can reach folks is certainly sort of a main line option, also taking a look at those elevators, taking a look at sort of feasible or cost effective devices. Even looking at the size of the building itself. Because within usually about seven stories of buildings, first responders can be using things like cherry pickers and things like that for external evacuation. Within the field there is increasing interest in this whole idea of external evacuation. I think what you will see in the years coming ahead are increasing opportunities for getting people out directly from the outside of the building through an array of escape mechanisms.
Does that answer your question?
Yes. Thank you.
Next question please.
Hi, my next question is what if you have a situation where the whole floor let us say about 80 percent of people have disabilities, what would be the most effective way to evacuate in a timely and, based on severity, effective manner. Also, can you force individuals to be in shelter in place in times of emergency?
Okay. I think the first question goes back to what we have just been talking about, as far as the uniqueness of the numbers of folks who have the needs within a particular area and given the uniqueness of that office environment. I don''t think there is a one size fits all sort of answer to that. Because I think where elevators are a huge piece of this puzzle, because if elevators can be effectively used, and isolate the nature of the emergency so that other elevator banks, you can move people laterally away from the incident. Even keeping folks on the same floor, away from an incident is increasingly. This is called lateral evacuation. There is increasing attention to actually being able to establish fire proofing, sectioning off individual floors into quadrants so that we can try to isolate the nature of the incident and people can only move laterally, but successfully survive the incident. That is another key piece to this. I would say looking at lateral, looking at elevators, looking at the, not just relying on a single buddy, but trying that cross-training approach that we talked about earlier. That is very, important. Moving to areas of stair well would be the last resort piece if you will, knowing that first responders are going to use those means to reach folks as quickly as possible. That sort of gets at that first one. In terms of the sheltering piece, to my knowledge, unless somebody can correct me here, and I have been in this discussion a lot with a number of folks, I have not seen a situation where an employer has actually been able to require an individual to practice into a shelter in place practice plan. So we can urge and coax. But ultimately if the individual refuses, then letting them know where the locations of those shelters are, letting them know how to get there, the nature and importance of that shelter is the critical piece. But I have yet to hear a situation where an employer has literally forced somebody to actually go into that practice and do it. I do want to point out an interesting case that was filed in December of 2004, by the EEOC in the eastern district of Louisiana, interestingly enough. Against Dupont Corporation. And it related to an employee there who had been terminated based on an assessment by the management in that particular facility that the person represented a direct threat. In the case that was brought, it was found that the individual was able to successfully evacuate, had done so in practice scenarios. So, that sort of trumped up a reason, if you will, was not found to carry water with that particular situation. And the employer was overturned in that. So I think making sort of sweeping conclusions about where people are and what they can do is probably as off base as an employee on their side not taking responsibility to come halfway and think through what their responsibility is.
Good point. Next question please.
Yes, a suggestion for emergency contact in disaster, use of CB radios. This came from Independence, Inc.
CB radios. I am not familiar personally the track record on the use of CB radios in times of emergency. I can certainly look into that further. If the questioner would like to e-mail me afterward, I can see what I find out about that and talk to colleagues.
Again, it is another use, a form of communication that may end up using a different technology that may not be impacted the same way as some other things. Just a short wave radio. There is so many different types. We always hear the stories of short wave radios being used in different situations in mountains and things of that nature with where other types of transmission is not useful. I think that is another form of communication. We always associate it with the truckers on the road. Obviously there are other means for being able to use that communication tool.
Right. Along those same lines, we are seeing a lot of attention right now given to the use of the NOAA weather radio system network. Because during a number of emergencies in different parts of the country, those networks of getting alarm notification information out to people because of the infrastructure that supports that particular notification system actually can withstand a lot of the local emergency incidents better than the traditional electronic networks out there. One real important piece is making greater use of those weather radios as all hazard notification devices so that it is not just is there a storm coming, but it can also speak to the danger of people being armed and loose out in a public area or other kinds of terrorist situations as well.
That makes sense. There is some pros and cons to those things for sure. Next question please?
Brian, one of the most common things that comes up and questions we get asked, I know you covered where do you find people in contacting your disability organizations and such in your area. We have had some individuals within emergency planning and emergency preparedness who are reluctant sometimes to reach out to people with disabilities because more of a fear of, they won''t know how to respond to the individuals'' needs. So maybe if we don''t reach out, maybe we don''t have to worry about it type of thing. One thing that comes up and I think you mentioned it, the issue of the person being separated from their mobility device. What often is not taken into consideration in emergency planning, once I have evacuated, what happens to that person? Transportation may be interrupted or access to personal care or medications or other kinds of things, that might be part of that evacuation process. Not just getting out of the building, but how do I get linked up with the other systems I rely upon that are part of my daily activities that are now interrupted? We don''t often plan for or think about that. We think about getting you out of the building.
I like to suggest along those lines something that has really been striking as a result of hurricane Katrina and the enormous disaster along the gulf coast there. Individuals with disability, I will put myself into this category in terms of the way I approach things. We are oftentimes taking pieces of supports from various transportation, technology, medication, various fields within our life and knitting it altogether, if you will, in a package that makes sense to us that fits together nicely in nonemergency times. In a disaster scenario of the magnitude we saw in Katrina, all those various service pieces that get essentially chopped off and left dangling, the individual then has the responsibility of having to go back and trying this almost impossible task of re-knitting together these fragmented pieces and maybe even in a dislocated situation. If they were dislocated from New Orleans to Atlanta or whatever and then starting over again, in terms of reconnecting to technology, medication, to personal assistance services. So I think that one of the things I would encourage my colleagues within government to do is across the agencies is working better at forming resource matrixes or resource inventories so that we can start to re-knit these service packages back together for people, giving them options right away when they are dislocated from a place where they knit all that together to begin with.
That makes sense. That is something we don''t think about until after the fact. We know these things are not a problem until there is a problem. Then it points out the weaknesses in the system. We can only hope. Sometimes I think what is often left out is for a lot of issues related to disability and such, a day, an hour, a half a day can make a world of difference for somebody. While somebody is scrambling to figure it out after the fact, that can have a detrimental impact on these people. They don''t have the same options or same kind of latitude for a period of time. Where it will eventually get figured out. Anymore questions please?
Can you hear me?
This is John Miller from Boise, Idaho. I am the County Safety Officer here. One question for Brian. First it was an informative talk today. I appreciate it. The question is two parts. Do you know how many disabled employees or visitors were evacuated from the two world trade centers? To most or all of us, this is such a catastrophic disaster. Is there any statistics on that?
I don''t have the numbers right off in terms of the number of folks. I happen to know more on the anecdotal side. I have spoken with three individuals personally who have disabilities and were evacuated from the twin towers. But I don''t have the numbers right off. But I think that the National Organization on Disability who did some work immediately following September 11th in terms of the disability impact, I think they have collected that information and I would be glad to look at that and talk to my colleagues in NOD to find that for you. If you could drop me an e-mail after the session, I will work with you on that.
Okay, I will do that. Thank you. The other is a comment to all the participants, that help from the private and public sector, for assistance in developing evacuation plans, particularly the private sector organizations within your area, large corporations have safety professionals and fire safety experts employed by them. They may certainly offer their assistance to organizations that assist the disabled in developing these plans. Those folks would be a good resource.
That is right. Thank you.
Thank you very much. Next question please.
Go ahead. Can you hear us? Check your mic, or your mute. We are not able to hear you.
Can you hear?
Yes. Now we can. Thank you.
Brian, did I hear you say that people with disabilities as employees can request specific accommodation for emergency evacuation?
Yes. That does happen. Now, the same parameters will come into play in terms of making that reasonable accommodation from the employer side. They will be looking at undo hardship in terms of cost and things like that. Absolutely. I would say if not frequently, at least oftentimes there are, for example, within the Job Accommodation Network, that our office provides funding to, we see a lot of employer and employee requests for information coming into that service based on this idea of how to meet an accommodation request related to emergency preparedness.
Would that, would something such as rather than waiting for the first responders to come to a third floor to help a person who is a wheelchair user, if that person requested to use the elevator if it was safe, do you think that is considered reasonable?
That would be highly dependent on the actual specific standards of that elevator itself in terms of what kinds of usage requirements around the time of emergency. What I think I hear a lot from both the employer side and employee side on the reasonable accommodations discussion is that employers will say, well an easy way to work with somebody with a mobility impairment is to locate them down on the ground level floor of the office. Any kind of sort of decision to move somebody based on a perceived impairment might easily run afoul of the anti-segregation requirements of the civil rights laws. We would caution employers to make sort of categorical movements of people. However, if the employee said as part of a reasonable request, I feel more comfortable because of a physical or cognitive or mental illness disability being located in a location closer to an exit over here, the employers can grant that as a reasonable accommodation request. We have seen that happen. So, it can work either way. The key being to respect the request of the individual and letting them sort of make that request in context to what they see as their assistance needs.
Next question please.
My question Brian, if you have individuals who are unconscious at the time of emergency and had a disability, one, is it implied consent? Two, what do you suggest to deal with that particular situation and recommend to a safety officer or safety director?
Well, I think I am going to use that as an opportunity to point out the idea of moving sort of physically moving people with disabilities. Because one of the downsides of looking at various strategies for actually evacuating individuals with disabilities using devices, is the nature of the disability itself, we have to be very careful that because of the orthopedics of the, and the needs of the person, their physical stamina of being able to moved in certain positions, there is definitely not a one size fits all answer to whether or not a particular device would be successful in moving somebody. That is if they are conscious of course. I suspect in the unconscious situation, a first responder is going to take probably, within the priorities of the moment assessing the risks and everything involved, is going to weigh the idea of leaving somebody in a particular location temporarily to receive medical assistance versus removing them physically from that location for the sake of getting them out if the nature and scope of the incident, if fire for example is moving rapidly toward that area, getting the person out even with complicating or exacerbating disability situation might be better than letting the person stay there. It is going to be an individual call in the heat of the moment literally by the safety official there.
Okay. We are just about at the end of our time period now. I am sure that there are other questions that are still out there. And I appreciate the fact that Brian has identified that he is willing to respond to questions that people might still have. And he is making himself available. Brian, do you want to repeat your contact information for people at this point since they may not have captured that during your initial information?
Sure. It is firstname.lastname@example.org That is my e-mail. Phone is area code 202-693-7858.
Great, thank you very much Brian. Again, if you also have questions that you maybe not able to get to Brian or would like to direct to your regional Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center, make sure do you that. All the centers have been working on these areas and had a focus on this. Some of the centers such as southeast and the disability law project down in Texas which serves the southwest area of the country have been particularly involved in some of these issues and special initiatives following Katrina and other disasters we have had in the last year. It is heightened our awareness of these issues. They have been working on special initiatives around this area. Contact them as well. You can do that by contacting 800-949-4232. That is both Voice and TTY. If you are not sure of which center serves your area or would like to specifically contact a different center because of some of the things they may have been involved in and they are outside your region, you can find out their contact information by going on the web at www.adata.org. You will find a map that will identify and provide specifications about how to contact centers across the country. Thank you for joining us today. Brian''s comments probably leave us with more questions. Hopefully it provided framework for those questions and answered thoughts that you had around this topic and maybe we will stimulate additional discussion. I think it is a critical issue. It is another bad weather season with spring and summer coming. We can never let our guard down, because over the years we have learned how critical each event that occurred, pre-planning or advanced notification is for all of us, whether it is in your personal lives or work lives or whatever else. Brian, I thank you for your time today.
Robin one quick thing I failed to mention. Frame work of guidelines I have been speaking from, available in the links that were sent ahead of time. We have print copies of that that are available free of charge to distribute. So, if the folks out there would like to request copies of that, just drop me an e-mail. I would be glad to send some of those.
Great. I am sure everybody has that contact information. That is available in hardcopy. Sometimes downloading things from the Internet is difficult for people. As a reminder for our next session which is the 4th session in our reasonable accommodations series. It will be held April 18th. Speaker is an Andrea Haenlin Mott. She will review and go through a survey of employer resources regarding ADA. One of the things we often here from people is that there is so much information out there we don''t know how to sort through it or don''t know the scope of the resources available. And Andrea will take it through key resources and pointing out how some might be used and make you aware of the scope of the resources. Some may be new to you, some may be familiar and it may be a refresher or overview of that information. There has been 15 years of that information compiled. Some of it is still valid but never really referred to anymore. We think it is old stuff. She is going to be going through and highlighting that for us. So please join us for the final of our sessions. We will then be starting our two part series after that in May on the built environment. Addressing things about playgrounds and signage and accessible spaces. Which is often an issue employers deal with in the employment context and emergency and things can be relevant there. Consider joining us. If do you not know what the full schedule of these programs are and you just hooked up today and are interested, go to www.ada-audio.org and a full description of the program and the various sessions is available there. I thank everyone for joining us today. I hope everyone has a great rest of today and rest of the week. Thank you very much.