Students with disabilities must rely on others in emergency evacuation

While everyone else is rushing out of a campus building during a drill or an evacuation, students with disabilities are often left behind, waiting for extra assistance from emergency personnel or volunteers.

Students with disabilities who do not receive assistance from classmates or faculty must go through the process of calling an emergency organization and waiting for help to arrive. This happened to several students after the April 17 regional power outage.

“Pretty much, being in my position, you should always know something like this could happen,” said microbiology major Fekadu Andeberhan, who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around because she has a muscle weakness that makes it difficult for her to walk.

When the lights went out, Andeberhan was in the computer lab on the second floor of the Humanities building.

“Some students waited with me,” she said. “It’s not good to be stuck, but I had help from kind people.”

After the lights went out, Andeberhan called the Disabled Student Program on campus, which arranged for her to be assisted by the fire department.

“We try to provide accessibility as much as possible. If people are stuck in elevators, we call the fire department,” said Mikael Miller, the front desk clerk at the Disability Program and Resource Center. “During an emergency we still run a system of call-ins, but there is staff designated inside the buildings to help if someone needs to get downstairs.”

Some students said that prevention is better than waiting for outside help. SF state visitor Carlos Zentella was in the Cesar Chavez Student Center at the time of the power outage.

“I think it’s better to take the necessary precaution before panic strikes,” said Zentella, who has polio. Fortunately, the elevators in the Student Center worked after the outage, unlike most other buildings on campus.

“I went back up the elevator quickly because it would be more difficult if I waited,” Zentella said. “I don’t know what I would have done if the elevators weren’t working.”

Waiting for help would have been the only option.

Not only did the power go out, but the rain also added to the difficulty of the situation. But in order to alleviate such chaos, the fire department has a system of helping people get out of buildings and evacuating them to safe areas.

“Generally what we do, if we’re notified, is we instruct people to stay in place or assist,” said Mindy Talmadge, a San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman. “And how that would happen would be that an area of refuge would be designated and the fire department would direct people to that area.”

However, the compounded problem of rain and a power outage makes things interesting.

“It’s like a domino effect with the lights out and the rain,” Zentella said. “It creates chaos.”