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What Is An Emergency Action Plan?

TLDR; Legally, employers are required to accommodate people with disabilities in an emergency. With an emergency action plan in place, they can quickly react to ensure their employees’ welfare.

Team Disclo
March 26, 2024

If you run a business with multiple employees, do you know what to do in a crisis? Is there a system in place to get everyone to safety? To contact the necessary authorities? Do you know how to handle a medical emergency?

If not, you may need to develop an emergency action plan.

An emergency action plan lays out a company’s designated course of action to be taken in the case of a natural disaster or other emergencies. It includes the most efficient way to safely evacuate employees and get help. Not all companies are required to have one, but if they do, it must accommodate people with disabilities. 

According to the American Community Survey done by Cornell University in 2009, about 10%, or over 18 million working-age people have one or more disabilities. Ambulatory ones are most common.

Because of statistics like this, President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13347, Individuals with Disabilities in Emergency Preparedness, in 2004. It required federal agencies to work with state and local governments in addressing the safety needs of people with disabilities. Since 1990, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) has stated that reasonable accommodations must be made for employees with disabilities, which includes accommodations for emergency situations. 

How do you include employees with disabilities in an emergency action plan?

Identify accommodation needs

When developing an emergency action plan, the employer must gather critical information that includes who may need special accommodation or assistance in the case of an emergency. This can be done during the hiring process or through periodic surveys. Regular drills can also identify needs people may have overlooked. By involving the employees during the developmental process, you are more likely to have an effective plan in place.

Due to the ADA and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), medical information must be kept confidential and separate from the employee’s personnel file. It should only be shared with first responders or a designated assistant if necessary. 

(Hint: This is where Disclo can help!)

Designated assistance

It’s important to know that not all people with visible disabilities need assistance. Some are more comfortable functioning on their own. However, others will need help getting to the nearest exit or stairwell. If that is the case, one or two people should be designated as their assistant(s) and given the medical information needed to do their job. In an emergency, they will help the person to safety and notify rescue personnel of their location.

Refuge area

If an employee with disabilities can’t be evacuated, there should be a designated area of refuge where they can safely wait for rescue. Stairwells are a common option. The designated assistant must have a way to contact first responders and confirm their location.

What if there is no emergency action plan?

If there is no official plan in place, reasonable accommodations must be made to protect employees with disabilities, including those with hidden ones such as psychiatric conditions, cognitive disabilities, allergies, asthma, and arthritis. 

Employers must know how to react if an employee with a disability has a medical emergency. An easy way to do this is to have the person fill out a medical emergency action plan. This document contains the following important information:

✅ Emergency contact person

✅ Type of medical condition that necessitates a plan

✅ Symptoms that require a response

✅ On-site designated responder 

✅ When to contact designated responder

✅ Warning signs that precede a medical emergency and the appropriate response

✅ Action plan - directions on how to react and care for the employee

✅ Required healthcare documentation for the employee’s return to work after an emergency

With this information, you aren’t left to wonder about the best course of action. You can effectively handle a medical emergency and give the best possible aid to your employees. 


Nobody wants to think about a disaster happening at their business, but it’s best to be prepared if one does. Accommodations for people with a disability include a designated assistant and refuge area. Routine drills help familiarize everyone with the proper procedure. 

To handle a medical emergency, have the employee fill out a medical emergency action form. This document provides crucial information about their condition, how to treat it, and who to contact. With some planning and clear communication, you can be ready to react on a moment’s notice.

For more detailed information on emergency accommodations for various types of disabilities, check out this guide.

Curious to see how accommodations can support your employees?

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