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Prepare for the Worst: Home Evacuation Plans for Disabled Persons

July 3, 2017

If you have plans to modify your home so it can better accommodate you or a family member with a disability, we encourage you to think about the worst-case scenarios before finalising your renovation plans. While no one enjoys thinking about it, planning in advance for a fire or natural disaster could literally make the difference between life and death for all involved. But when someone depends upon a wheelchair or other mobility aid, the risk of injury or death is even higher, as he or she does not have the same ability to move quickly in an emergency as others do. In today’s post, we’re going to discuss some of the things you can do now to ensure you will be able to leave safely should an emergency occur.

Home Modifications

If you have renovation plans in the works, now is the perfect time to include some modifications in your home that would help you or a loved one evacuate as quickly as possible. Here are some of the modifications you should consider making:


  • Widen your doorways. A standard doorway is about 90cm wide. If a disabled person needs help leaving the building in an emergency, a wider doorway would allow for two or more people to carry them if needed. We suggest widening all doorways to at least 120cm. If it’s not possible to widen all doorways, consider widening at least the ones that are along the escape route.
  • Ensure that pathways are clear. Ensure that paths through the home are wide enough to allow for evacuation in an emergency. This means that furniture should be moved to allow for adequate clearance and clutter should not be allowed to accumulate.
  • Place bedrooms as near as possible to an exit. For the best chance of surviving an incident during the night, locate the bedroom of the disabled person so it is very close to an exit. Even better, build an exit into the individual’s bedroom. Glass sliding doors that open out onto the garden or driveway would provide immediate access in the event of an emergency.
  • Make sure exits are accessible. Make sure that the disabled person can exit the building on their own without power. If there are steps around the exit, consider building a ramp to provide access.

  • Install more smoke detectors. Everyone’s chances of survival are greater when the threat of fire is detected sooner. We recommend installing fire detectors in every room of the house, hallways and garage.
  • Place fire extinguishers throughout the home. Install fire detectors in accessible locations throughout the home. Ensure that everyone, especially the disabled person, is able to reach the extinguishers quickly and knows how to use them. This is particularly important in the event that the disabled person’s clothing catches fire, as they will not be able to “stop, drop and roll.”


Plan and Practice

Hopefully you are able to make most, if not all, of these modifications to your home. Once they are complete, it’s important that everyone living in the home knows how to evacuate in an emergency. Sit down as a family and create an exit plan. The plan should include a detailed description of how each person will exit the building and who will provide support and assistance to the disabled person. Make sure that the escape route is understood by all and that each member of the family knows how to operate all locks, doors and windows throughout the home.


The best way to be prepared for an emergency that requires speedy evacuation is to practice, practice, practice. Hold earthquake and fire drills at routine intervals, at least twice per year. Your family should practice exiting the house exactly as they might do in an emergency. This includes providing assistance and/or physically lifting and moving your disabled family member to safety.

We’re here to help

I sincerely hope that you are never faced with a life-threatening emergency in your family home. But a little bit of planning could prevent the unthinkable, so it’s essential that you take the time to think about it now. At Vestner NZ our goal is to ensure that all New Zealanders have safe access to their homes, no matter what circumstance may arise. If you need help planning a safe evacuation route, we encourage you to contact us today. Our team is happy to provide advice or connect you with another party that can provide further assistance, if needed.



House Fire 005 by Marc Gallant, CC BY 2.0

Ramp 1 by Melissa Wilkins, CC BY-NC 2.0

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