The USDA first got intensely involved in emergency preparedness for employees with disabilities as a result of several problems that occurred during two emergency evacuations of the South Agriculture Building held in November, 1993. This led to the creation of a Departmental level sub-committee (Department Task Force – DTF), which published the “Occupant Emergency Plan Review for Employees with Disabilities” in September, 1994.
In this report, the DTF identified 4-basic concept flaws of occupant emergency plans (circa 1993), including:
- current procedures are person or location dependent, assuming that either a specific individual or group of individuals will be on duty at the time of the incident, and that the employee (with a disability) will be in or near their office at the time of the incident,
- employees with disabilities are not provided accurate or timely information regarding the incident,
- that there are inherent risk involved in the proper use of controlled-descent chairs to the employee, the assistance team, and to other employees in the stairwells, and
- that current drills do not test the effectiveness of evacuation procedures for employees with disabilities.
Shortly after this report was published, USDA included employees with disabilities on departmental level safety and emergency planning committees. Additionally, the Department began developing and implementing the beginning of its multiple-method of emergency notifications, which includes strobe lights, pagers, emails, computer notification programs, voice mail, two-way radios, bullhorns, TV-LAN announcements, public address systems, the Warden Phone System, and the soon to be installed Electronic Message Boards.
By 2001, when the rest of the country was waking up to the 9/11 attacks, USDA had already established the Incident Command System (ICS) and had already put into service most of the aforementioned communication systems. Additionally, in FY-2000, USDA senior management included a “Special Needs Advisor” position within the ICS, thus addressing the commonly heard phrase, “Nothing about us, without us!”
Prior to the 9/11 events and the anthrax incidents in Florida and Washington, D.C., most emergency plans were only about evacuation. If the incident, man-made or natural, is an external event, it may not be wise to evacuate the facility. As a result, emergency planners have to include emergency shelter-in-place plans and policies, and must take into account the upward movement of people with mobility and/or circulatory impairments.
Last Modified: 06/27/2012