New applications and integrations of existing technologies with fire protection/life safety systems could improve evacuation and rescue assistance for disabled persons. New accessibility and life safety features will likely be driven by innovation and a continued trend towards the establishment of higher standards of care in the realm of accessibility and life safety.
Equivalent Levels of Safety
Building code requirements concerning accessibility and egress provide physically challenged occupants with information and elements that safely direct them to accessible exits or designated evacuation assistance areas.
The need to provide equivalent levels of life safety for persons with mobility, visual and hearing impairments challenges security to expand the capabilities and integration of the fire protection/life safety features currently required in buildings. Some of these elements might include systems that incorporate increased levels of distributed intelligence; systems that dynamically observe, optimize and direct evacuation flows based upon building conditions; wireless communications systems that tailor communications to the intended recipients' needs; and wireless positioning information to help facilities personnel and emergency responders locate mobility, visually and hearing impaired persons in emergencies.
Evacuation Assistance Challenges
Physically challenged occupants may move slowly in evacuations, so providing technology that can help them find their way to an exit quickly may improve response time. When response times are decreased, building occupants are exposed to emergency hazards for less time, thereby increasing their chances of survival and reducing their likelihood of injury. If these occupants are warned in advance of the dangers they might face along certain egress paths, they will make better choices. The result will be potential decreases in their hazard exposures. An intelligent egress system that informs occupants of the best decisions to make during an emergency by drawing upon monitored building conditions could provide additional levels of protection and reduce evacuation and rescue assistance times for disabled persons.
Areas of Evacuation Assistance
Areas of evacuation or rescue assistance are protected areas provided to disabled persons awaiting the assistance of trained emergency personnel. The areas may offer smoke-proof enclosures, two-way communication capabilities, proper identification of evacuation assistance locations, alarms and emergency warning systems. These features are intended to provide safe areas within buildings that are protected from fire, smoke and toxic products of combustion. Additionally, wayfinding and communications features help people locate these areas, allow them to communicate between these areas and the primary entry, and alert them to danger through alarms and emergency warning systems.
Although the building code requires specific life safety features such as areas for evacuation assistance, some jurisdictions allow the omission of these areas in buildings with supervised automatic sprinkler systems. Automatic sprinkler systems have proven effective in controlling fires and protecting the occupants of a building from harm. When they are used as a basis to justify the omission of areas of evacuation assistance, mobility, visually and hearing impaired persons rely upon their faith in modern engineering and timely evacuation or rescue assistance in the event of a fire. In these circumstances building officials often ask, "If areas for evacuation assistance are not provided, what additional fire protection/life safety features are proposed to ensure that disabled occupants are reasonably protected?"
Timed Egress Models