Welles: Leave no one behind

In planning for emergencies, don't forget employees with disabilities

Guidelines on how to make buildings safe in an emergency for people with disabilities

An information technology specialist at the Interior Department's U.S. Geological Survey who is deaf worries because she cannot hear the emergency alarms and might not be able to see the flashing lights in the hallway from her cubicle. Nancy Sanders has been left behind many times during drills.

"I looked around the building, realized there was no one around except myself and another deaf person," she said. "We started out the building just as the rest of the employees were coming back in from an evacuation."

Agencies have taken steps to help ensure safety in an emergency for the 120,000 employees with disabilities who work for the federal government.

"The situation is being addressed," said W. Roy Grizzard, assistant secretary of the Labor Department for disability employment policy. "Not one size fits all [agencies], so the key is to be flexible in planning to meet the special needs of employees."

President Bush issued Executive Order 13347 in 2004, establishing the Federal Interagency Coordinating Council on Emergency Preparedness and Individuals with Disabilities and calling for agencies to have emergency preparedness plans in place for employees with disabilities.

Grizzard's office recently issued guidelines on how to make buildings safe in an emergency for people with disabilities. Suggestions include using emergency slides if elevators are off, auxiliary lighting, the buddy system, and audio and visual alarms.

The guidelines also describe disabled employees' rights to make their preferences known. He urges agencies to communicate with employees before, during and after an emergency or drill. The first step is to determine what accommodations workers with disabilities need to exit the building safely or find shelter where they are, he said.

For employees who might not have had this communication within their agency or are unsure of emergency procedures, Grizzard recommends that they share their concerns with their supervisors.

The guidelines provide examples of issues that can arise and raise important questions. For example, are there multiple methods in place to notify people of emergency procedures? Who gets priority use of the elevators? What are the alternative means of evacuation?

"If the building is safe for a person with a disability, it will be safe for all individuals," Grizzard said.

Dog days of summer

It's officially the dog days of summer once again. Congress is out of session, and federal employees are using vacation days. But some are hoarding them in case they decide to retire at the end of the year.

One federal worker, heading to the North Carolina beaches, took his five dogs in his sport utility vehicle.

Bush's dog gets to take helicopters and Air Force One when the family goes to the president's Crawford, Texas, ranch.

Where do you go with pets, and how do they manage while you are at work? A future column will focus on pets.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.