Evacuating the Disabled After a Disaster

After a large scale or community-wide disaster has struck, what is often left behind is a lot of damage, debris and injured persons. Should this occur on your campus, would you be prepared to evacuate the injured or those who are permanently handicapped? Habitually, evacuation plans are not created with the wounded or disabled in mind, says Clifford Adkins, CEO and founder of Des Peres, Mo.-based ARC Products LLC and the maker of emergency evacuation equipment.

“[With evacuation plans at schools in particular], the plan is to exit the building in a uniform fashion,” he explains. “However, many of these plans do not say, ‘How do I get the student, faculty, visitor or employee out of the building if they can’t walk.’ We no longer have to leave the physically disabled or injured behind and wait for professional responders. The ‘leave and wait’ mentality that so many people have is a problem.”

Many evacuation plans rely on the help of EMS and/or fire departments to help campuses evacuate either handicapped individuals or those who have become immobile due to the natural disaster. However, there could be glitches in this plan. For example, EMS and fire departments must first respond to the areas that require the most need. So, if an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, fire, etc., causes an intense amount of damage that calls for road or bridge repair, emergency departments are going to fix those issues first. Thus, students, faculty and staff could be waiting for hours – and maybe even days – before someone comes to their rescue.

In such situations, campuses can now become proactive, rather than reactive in developing evacuation plans. Adkins notes that even if an evacuation team arrived with an evacuation chair to transport the injured out of a building, there are a few problems. Because of the evacuation chair’s weight (commonly 40 pounds), someone who is light in stature would probably not be able to operate it. Moreover, wheeled devices, such as the evacuation chairs, do not easily move over debris.

Lightweight Evacuation Chair Easy to Maneuver in Crisis


Luckily, there are other options used to evacuate the injured. For example, EVAC+CHAIR of Lake Success, N.Y. offers a lightweight, 19-pound evacuation chair. The chair can reportedly hold up to 400 pounds.

According to the company’s Web site, the EVAC+CHAIR is available in three standard forms. All models should be easy to deploy, as it does not require the operator to balance the chair with one hand while releasing buckles, straps or skids when the chair is occupied.

Additionally, the chair has been designed to facilitate the ease of transfer for a person of reduced mobility. The company notes that a wheelchair and the evacuation chair must be of equal height and supported by an operator for extra stability.

Furthermore, the company maintains that the EVAC+CHAIR can maneuver around difficult landings and corners, and can either go down two flights of stairs in 15 seconds, or four floors in a minute, without blocking the stairs for other users.

Extraction Sled Eliminates Lifting Injured Party


When coming up with the idea for the Med Sled, the “goal was to evacuate someone in a complex, difficult area without lifting him/her,” explains Adkins. As it stands, lifting an injured person could cause more damage. Moreover, he wanted to raise the questions for hospital officials and school administrators of “what now?” “Everybody always talks about disaster preparedness in terms of, ‘Are you ready,” he says. “[With the Med Sled] we’re actually asking what [campuses] are doing right now if there was an immediate need to get out of the building.”

Adkins designed the extraction sled after the Marine Corp. noticed his hunting product that helped pull large game out of the woods. After seeing the success of the sled, Adkins asked hospital personnel if the product would beneficial to them, and the rest, as they say, was history.

Designed for a lightweight person to evacuate another person of equal or greater weight, the Med Sled is currently deployed in about 700 hospitals (more than 1,500 institutions are using the product). The seven-foot long Med Sled weighs less than 10 pounds, according to Adkins. Users simply unroll the sled and roll the injured person on his/her side. The person operating the sled pushes it underneath the injured party, who is then slid on the evacuation device. Three cross-straps secure the injured party in the sled for complete protection.

The Med Sled designer maintains that the product is strong enough to carry 500 pounds, and illustrates that a 100-pound person can easily pull a 250-pound person in the sled. Additionally, the Med Sled can be pulled over rubble and debris, and if there is a need for the product to go vertical, there is a stairwell brake system attached to the sled that can be used. The locking carabiner can be hooked to the railing bracket, which allows for the sled to slowly slide down steps.

Furthermore, Med Sled offers training and consulting for its users, including Incident Command and Hazard Vulnerability Assessment. “People are typically able to figure out how to operate it at a time of need,” says Adkins. “We call this just-in-time training. However, we still go in to our larger schools and perform hands-on training that normally lasts about three hours although we’ve done a few that have lasted for three days. It depends on the size of the organization.”

As Adkins says, evacuating a building after an earthquake can be a daunting task; however, if your campus starts creating its plans now, the task might not be as problematic as one would think.


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