Agencies urged to include disabled workers in emergency plans

Communication, flexibility and agency commitment are the keys to establishing emergency procedures for employees with disabilities, according to a new Labor Department report.

More than 120,000 employees with disabilities work in facilities owned or leased by the federal government, according to Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities: An Interagency Seminar of Exchange for Federal Managers. The report, released on Monday, summarized concerns expressed by agency officials during a December 2003 conference called to identify best practices on the issue.

"We would hope that safety of workers is a top consideration in any facility," said Roy Grizzard, first assistant secretary of the Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy.

Conference attendees emphasized including people with disabilities in emergency preparedness planning.

Lawrence Roffee, executive director of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, pointed out the possible benefits of making people with disabilities a part of the evacuation plan. A blind person is likely in a better position to lead someone out in a dark, smoky stairwell much easier than a sighted person, he said during the conference.

The need for agency budget and personnel commitment is crucial during the implementation phase of an evacuation plan, the report argues. John Benison, disability policy adviser for the Transportation Department's Office of Civil Rights, reiterated this point, noting that a memo from Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta served as the catalyst for its emergency preparedness program. Investing in equipment such as evacuation chairs for the wheelchair-bound and vibrating pagers for the deaf were also cited as worthwhile costs.

The report also identified other technological improvements that could be used in federal buildings. Because alarm systems do not alert the blind or deaf in some circumstances, the report recommended a Computer Electronic Notification System that could provide more information by designating the type of emergency and instructions. This could only be used, however, if employees were at their desks. Strobe lights were recommended to supplement audible fire alarms.

According to Edwina Juillet, co-founder of the National Taskforce on Fire/Life Safety for People with Disabilities, the assumption that elevators cannot be used in emergencies is not always true. Elevators are built to resist hours of heat exposure and smoke, said Juillet, who urged the development of a mode of communication between elevator operators and people with disabilities. One participant noted that teletypewriters in elevators would allow deaf employees to communicate with command centers as well.

Familiarity not only with new technologies but with procedures and possible glitches was another point stressed by conference attendees. Without drills, it is unlikely that employees will be familiar enough with evacuation procedures to proceed efficiently in an emergency situation. Practice also allows for adjustments. As problems arise, they can be remedied before an actual emergency occurs. And though some participants worried that repeated drills would lead to nonchalance, Grizzard disputed that notion.

"To me, memories of 9/11 are too etched in our minds," Grizzard said. "People say practice makes perfect, but for us, practice makes permanent."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.