Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies Accommodations for Special Need Evacuees

Evacuees with disabilities may require special accommodations during evacuations. As reported in the Web site article “Precedent-Setting Decision on Emergency Evacuations for People with Disabilities Issued in Maryland,” on, the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland, issued a decision on December 28, 2004, that “shopping malls, stores, restaurants, movie theaters, museums, and other private entities subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act throughout the country, whether landlords or tenants, must now seek to accommodate people with disabilities in the development and modification of emergency evacuation procedures.

“The court’s significant decision arises out of a lawsuit that was filed in Spring 2003 by Katie Savage, a Washington, D.C. resident who became trapped during an emergency evacuation in a local shopping mall that had no accessible exits for persons with disabilities. Ms. Savage, who uses a wheelchair, was shopping at a Marshall’s store in Silver Spring, Maryland's City Place Mall on September 3, 2002, when the store and the Mall were evacuated. After Marshall’s required her to exit into an area of the Mall that is below ground level, Ms. Savage found that she was trapped there and unable to evacuate, because the elevators were shut down and all the exits had stairs. Abandoned by store employees and trapped, Ms. Savage resolved to use her terrifying ordeal as a vehicle for ensuring that fellow citizens with disabilities would not be similarly victimized in emergency evacuation situations. Ms. Savage joined the Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington (the DRC) in filing a lawsuit against Marshall’s and City Place Mall that alleged violations of the ADA in both the Mall's emergency evacuation plan and Marshall’s corporate-wide evacuation policies.”

Special needs evacuees may require longer-term evacuation accommodations due to the nature of the evacuation, thus surprising local authorities and impacting resources. According to the Orlando Sentinel article “Florida Not Ready,” “one of the biggest shortcomings last year was the state’s lack of preparation for the needs of sick and elderly evacuees, he [Governor Jeb Bush] said. No one had planned to keep the ‘special needs’ shelters open for weeks at a time. So keeping those shelters running was a strain on staff and resources. Bush said the state has improved the way it will communicate with hospitals and nursing homes as a storm approaches.”

February 7, 2006
Publication #FHWA–HOP-08-015