Schools are important. They are the building blocks of our society that provide youngsters with exposure to knowledge, activities, and experiences that help shape their personalities. However, when hit with a natural disaster or an accident like a fire, schools can quickly turn into a dangerous place, if proper care is not taken.

Unfortunately, two-thirds of schools in England still have poor fire protection systems. According to a 2019 report by Zurich Municipal, which insures about half of all schools and universities in the UK, 67% of English schools inspected had “poor” fire protection systems, while only 5% were awarded an “excellent” rating.

Furthermore, there are more than 1,000 fires in school premises every year, costing on average £2.8 million for larger incidents. The bottom line is, schools need to have a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan.

Here are five things schools need to take into account when preparing to face emergencies.

1. Conducting Complete Disaster Risk Assessment

The first thing you need to do is to conduct a thorough assessment or audit of your entire school premises for disaster preparedness. It involves checking everything, from potential fire hazards to safety issues related to natural disasters like flood and winter storms.

Make sure to contact certified professionals to assess the disaster response preparedness of your school. For example, a certified fire safety inspector can help you identify each potential fire hazard on your site, determine the level of potential risk, and draw an evacuation plan.

You will also need to conduct a complete safety audit of your school periodically. Sometimes, structural changes are made to existing school buildings or new infrastructure is added. You have to make sure these changes are in accordance with your disaster preparedness plan. Make sure the architect and construction company understand the importance of these safety systems or get certified personnel involved from the beginning.

2. Conducting Safety Drills Regularly

Installing safety devices, building emergency exits, and creating a safety plan are only the first-half of the school safety equation. The second-half includes preparing your staff as well as the pupils for acting in case of an emergency. That’s where regular drills come in.

Drills allow you to identify any safety issues that need addressing. While you should check what the local laws say about the frequency of drills, it is better to carry them out at least once every term, and preferably at different times of the day. It will help both students and teachers understand how to react, should any emergency take place.

The drill process should include identifying the signals for emergencies, how the protocol lockdown and evacuation should take place, where the evacuation site is, and how to help students and staff with disabilities. For example, you may need to use stair climbing wheelchairs for disabled pupils in your school and also train students and teachers to help them evacuate to safety before help arrives.

3. Disaster Preparedness for the Disabled

As mentioned in the previous point, disaster preparedness in schools should also consider disabled pupils and teachers. You need to think about people with different disabilities including hearing and visual impairment, limited or no mobility, and speech impairment, among other things.

You need to make sure they understand the emergency procedure, and get all the help required such as stair climber wheelchair assistance to get them to safety. Some of the important things that you need to include in your disaster preparedness plan are:

  • Identify and build evacuation routes for the disabled, especially for those with limited mobility
  • Create ways to communicate with people having hearing and visual disabilities
  • Provide disabled students with a buddy, who can help them during evacuation or in case of emergencies
  • Make sure to include people with disabilities in your disaster preparedness planning and get their feedback on how practical your solutions are. For example, if you are going to buy evacuation chairs for schools, people with disabilities can help you find the right ones.
  • People with disabilities should also have enough representation on your emergency response team as it ensures a comprehensive understanding of your school’s evacuation needs
  • Invest in mobility resources and equipment like evacuation chairs for schools among other things

4. Investing in Emergency Response Equipment

While training and planning are important, you will also need to invest in emergency response equipment. Usually, the list of emergency response equipment includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • First aid kits with First Aid/CPR/AED instruction manuals
  • Fire extinguishers, fire hydrants, and fire hoses
  • Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBAs)
  • Emergency alarm system
  • Emergency blankets
  • List of important local emergency numbers
  • Escape packs for students and teachers, if required

In addition to investing in these resources, you will also need to get emergency response equipment for people with disabilities. While you should consult experts and check local regulations when making decision in this regard, most schools usually need to invest in two types of equipment:

A. Evacuation Sleds for Schools

Evacuation sleds are a simple, easy, and quick way to evacuate people with limited mobility or injuries (that restrict mobility) during emergencies. You can bring people down the flight of stairs in a multistorey school building or help them out of a single-storey building directly.

B. Evacuation Chairs for Schools

Evacuation chairs for schools and other premises can help people with mobility disabilities ascend and descend stairwells smoothly even during emergencies. As you can’t use lifts during any emergency, mobility stair climbers are your best option. These chairs are lightweight and effortlessly glide down the stairs, making it easy to evacuate the disabled without doing any heavy lifting or manual handling.

When choosing sleds or evacuation chairs for schools, make sure to involve people with disabilities in your decision from the beginning. They can help you make the right choices. Plus, you can get a trial run of the equipment in the actual environment to make sure it suits your emergency evacuation needs.

5. Creating a Crisis Response Team

The final step in your emergency response plan is to create a crisis response team. As mentioned, the team should comprise at least one representative from the disabled community. However, it needs to be as diverse as possible. It helps bring expertise from different areas to the table.

Usually, the school board and the Principal can ask for volunteers to join the team. Make sure to consider the availability, location, communication skills, and mental as well as physical health of the person before making them a part of the team. You can include teachers, school board members, nurses, sports coaches, and custodians in the team.

In most cases, the school Principal will take on the responsibility of heading the team. However, you can appoint any capable person as the team leader. The leader has to ensure that all team members, staff, and students are kept safe during an emergency until the police and emergency response services like fire fighters arrive.


Schools have to think about and plan for the safety of its students and teachers. If you keep these five tips in mind, handling a potential disaster, like a fire, can become significantly easier. While we are no experts in overall disaster preparedness planning, we can certainly help you pick up the right evacuation chairs for schools for the disabled students and teachers. Call us on 01787 728221 to arrange a free stair climbing wheelchair demo or send us a message to find out how we can help the disabled in your school.

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