How can we make sure vulnerable populations receive and understand emergency messages? During his presentation today at the Research Foundation symposium in Orlando, Bryan Hoskins, Ph.D. of Oklahoma State University, provided an overview of how vulnerable populations, including the visually and hearing impaired, those with cognitive disabilities or in unfamiliar locations, the elderly, children, and others, may experience difficulty in understanding warnings provided during an emergency.
With this wide range of impairments, Dr. Hoskins says that at any given moment, 50% or more of our populations may be considered to be vulnerable during an emergency.
Dr. Hoskins says traditional warning horns and strobes are effective in alerting many people to an emergency, but some vulnerable populations may be unable to respond or understand the actions they are expected to perform. In these instances, he says, voice or text notifications may be needed. He noted that a literature review of this issue resulted in a series of recommendations on emergency messaging for a variety of populations, including:
- All information should be provided both visually and audibly
- Alarms should be distinct for each type of emergency
- Messages should be simple in terms of vocabulary and number of instructions
- Messages should have the more important information at the beginning and the end
- Messages should be repeated frequently and at a slow pace
NFPA's free "Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities" provides information on the general categories of disabilities (mobility, visual, hearing, speech, and cognitive) and the evacuation information that occupants need. It also includes a checklist that building services managers and people with disabilities can use to design a personalized evacuation plan.