Emergency Evacuation and Refuges

When implementing a solution in non-domestic applications, it is important to understand the need for the provision of a refuge area for those who might be unable to evacuate a site. Designing such a facility into systems can only enhance the benefits on offer to users.

In a recent study, the use of refuges in modern buildings was one of the more often misunderstood elements of Building Regulations. Despite what many think, the provision of a refuge is not covered by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). However, those designing such facilities should remember that the DDA is an important piece of legislation, and whilst not specifying the requirements of refuges, the Act must be adhered to to ensure that, where practical, disabled persons are not subject to discrimination on account of their condition.

The thinking behind a refuge is simple, and easy to understand. In the event of a need to evacuate a site – fire, bomb threat, etc. – it is important that people leave swiftly, but in an ordered and structured manner. Whilst for many users of a site this will not be an issue, for those who have problems using stairs unaided, it presents a challenge that can be quite frightening.

Whilst it is vital that a degree of protection extends to all users of a site, regardless of their mobility, it is equally as important that obstructions or delays are not caused for others evacuating the site. It is also important to ensure that any persons with mobility issues are not endangered by others who do not fully understand the best and safest ways to assist. Enthusiastic but untrained ‘helpers’ could create more problems than they solve.

The purpose of a refuge is not to create a space in which to leave those with mobility issues whilst a fire is tackled, or until the emergency services arrive! It should be a short-term safe area which allows the user to put their evacuation plan into place.

There are design requirements which cover the locations of refuges, the materials that should be used, even the sizes of the spaces. For security installers and systems integrators, such considerations will be outside of their remit when creating solutions. However, where it is possible to add benefits is through the installation, and potential integration, of an effective communications system.

Refuges are required to have in place some form of communications system that allows those using them to remain in contact with those co-ordinating any evacuation procedures. These systems are vital to ensure that any persons in refuges can alert others to the fact that they require assistance, and can also then receive reassurance that help is being provided.

In contact

It is important that communications systems for refuge areas are simple to use, clearly printed with instructions, and effective. Bear in mind that users might well be in a state of anxiety or fear when using them, and appreciate that any complication in operation will be a negative.

When considering the needs for a communications system, there are a number of issues to consider. Many buildings may have a requirement to have a refuge facility on every floor near to a staircase. The need to handle multiple calls means that care should be taken to ensure that any communications system has the capacity – or expansion capabilities – to cope. Also, whilst the receiving stations typically use handsets, this will not practical for the call stations at the refuges. Because of the nature of the system, these should also allow hands-free two-way communication, and be equipped with status lights to ensure anyone using them is aware of the system status.

Call stations must be rugged, and should have IP ratings to ensure they can continue to operate if, for example, sprinkler systems are activated. They should also be able to operate effectively and deliver clear communications with high ambient noise levels without any need for interaction from users.

It is also advisable to seek solutions that include an induction loop amplifier for the hard of hearing, and are compliant with BS5839 part 9: the code of practice for emergency voice communication systems.

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