College's Exit Plan Debated

Emergency evacuation plan calls for students to leave behind disabled peers

An e-mail sent last week by the Harvard Accessible Education Office (AEO) detailing emergency evacuation procedures for students with disabilities on campus has sparked concern and confusion about the fairness of evacuation plans for disabled students.

The safety plan specifically states that people near disabled students should not assist them with evacuation in an emergency.

“Do NOT attempt to evacuate or move a student with a disability yourself,” the policy states. It also explicitly forbids the use of elevators for all students.

Joseph A. Ford ’06, a Currier House resident with cerebral palsy, described the procedures as the “Leave Them Alone to Burn” plan.

“In an emergency situation you can’t really predict how long it will take [for assistance to arrive],” said Ford, who responded to the e-mail—which was sent only to proctors and students with disabilities—by sending an e-mail of his own over House and other open-lists. “People are supposed to leave the building as quickly as possible because you don’t know what’s going on.”

Ford says he is familiar with these types of rules because in his high school in Colorado he was left out of practice emergency drills, including bomb drills.

But according to the AEO, in the event of an emergency, disabled students may attempt to evacuate the building themselves.

Ford wrote that this may not always be possible.

“Although I myself can evacuate from my room, I would not be able to evacuate from many classrooms or other venues in the University,” Ford wrote. “I believe that this is deeply immoral and illustrates incredible bias.”

Ford also pointed out that while students cannot help disabled people, they can assist someone who is intoxicated.

But Scott S. Farmer ’09, a fourth-floor resident of Thayer, said he understands why the AEO discourages certain assistance.

“I can see a reason behind [the AEO] saying that, some disability cases, if you do not know how to care for the person, it could actually hurt the person more by helping them than not,” Farmer said.

Farmer, who also received the e-mail from AEO, was born with Klippel Trenaunay Weber Syndrome and wears a prosthesis on his left leg. But he said he would be capable of evacuating in the case of an emergency.

“My disability does not warrant the necessity of an elevator, and I would be able to escape the situation,” said Farmer. Although he often travels with a cane or on an electronic scooter, Farmer is capable of moving free of assistance.

The evacuation plan specifically states that the rules regarding assistance should be applied even to students with scooters and wheelchairs.

In case of fire or smoke, the plan states that if students are unable to evacuate, they should try to close their doors and stop cracks with towels. Disabled students may also use their phones to call the Operations Center to confirm their location and the type of assistance that they need. After making the call, the disabled student should then stay in the room and wait for someone from the Operations Center to arrive and assist them.

The AEO is providing each disabled student with stickers bearing the Operations Center number to place onto their phones.

Rules or no rules, Farmer’s roommate, John D. Selig ’09, said he would not leave Farmer alone in emergency evacuation situation.

“If it ever came down to it, I would totally help my roommate or anyone regardless of what the rules say as long as it was within my power to do so,” Selig said.