As a fresh school term begins, a priority for school administrators and education professionals will be ensuring that firm emergency evacuation plans are in place for their premises. Evacuation experts, Evac+Chair International, are reminding all schools, colleges and universities to take account of the specialist needs of their new influx of students, in particular, those who require assistance with mobility.
In 2010, a report by Evac+Chair International found that of those surveyed from the education sector that owned specialist evacuation equipment, such as evacuation chairs designed to assist mobility-impaired individuals descend stairways in the event of a fire or other emergency, half (50 percent) did not use them during evacuation drills, leaving them at serious risk in the event of a real-life emergency.
Ensuring adequate plans are in place requires careful planning, centred around ensuring those individuals most at risk are assigned a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP). Compiling a PEEP requires close consultation with the individuals concerned in order to assess their daily movements and map planned emergency responses around these.
Mark Wallace, Managing Director at Evac+Chair International, comments:
“Recognising that in the event of an emergency, the mobility of able-bodied individuals can be impaired by panic and anxiety, echoes the importance of not only ensuring evacuation chairs are installed for those individuals that require them, but also that fire wardens or assigned individuals are properly trained in how to operate them.”
Changes in legislation also support this view. In addition to the 2010 Equality Act, which considers inadequate evacuation plans for the disabled to be direct discrimination, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 places a legal duty on those who manage premises to ensure adequate means for escape for all building occupants. It is now no longer the responsibility of the Fire and Rescue Service to evacuate persons from a building and education establishments should not rely on their intervention.
Mark Wallace adds: “Schools, colleges and universities should enlist fire wardens and management to deploy regular co-ordinated practice sessions; these should include practice with relevant equipment, to ensure vital skills sets do not diminish. Specific drills should be conducted with a reduced number of staff and students, in order to be prepared for an emergency taking place outside normal working hours.”
Regular practise drills not only ensure that all those involved with the safe evacuation of students and visitors are well versed in the action to take, but it also provides an opportunity to check the maintenance of the equipment – particularly important in schools and colleges where tampering and vandalism may occur. A regular servicing plan, such as Evac+Chair’s ServiCare plan, is also highly recommended.
The Royal Latin School in Buckinghamshire last year installed a number of evacuation chairs after identifying the need for additional emergency aid for mobility-impaired students and visitors.
Debbie Donoghue, premises manager, said: “The safety of our pupils, staff and visitors is paramount and having the confidence that we have the highest-quality safety apparatus in the event of an emergency is crucial. Lifts should not be used in the event of a fire or other emergencies and, for some, this could cut off exits from our building. The school’s investment in installing 15 evacuation chairs has ensured a safe escape route for everyone.”
Training was as important an element as the installation itself as staff undertook Evac+Chair’s Key Trainer Masterclass programme to ensure the chairs could be properly operated if the need arose.
Donoghue added: “The more people who are trained in using the Evac+Chair the better as this will minimise risk and improve accessibility. It is extremely reassuring to know that, should we require it, we have the necessary equipment and skills to potentially save lives.”