February 20, 2002
BY PAT MILHIZER SUN-TIMES SPRINGFIELD BUREAU
Leigh Gilmore knows all too well about what it's like for a disabled person trying to evacuate a building during a disaster.
One of the 900 visitors at the Marriott Hotel at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, Gilmore, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and is confined to a motorized scooter, made it out of the building just moments before the first tower collapsed onto it.
Before the collapse, Gilmore sat in the sixth-floor hall for about forty minutes as people calmly walked past her to get outside. It wasn't until some maintenance men arrived and took her down a freight elevator that she got out.
While telling her story in Springfield to the House Disabled Community Committee last week, Gilmore talked about the "horror" and "small miracles" that led to her escape. "If there was anything resembling an evacuation plan it was certainly never initiated . . . that every one of the approximately 900 people in the hotel were not out of that building in a matter of minutes is a disgrace," she said.
With this in mind, Rep. Maggie Crotty (D-Oak Forest) has introduced a bill that requires designated high-rises across the state to have a disaster evacuation plan in place that focuses on disabled people.
The bill follows Chicago's lead, where all buildings over 80 feet are required to have an evacuation plan that includes a list of people who are disabled in the building.
Crotty's bill initially had the 80 feet requirement, but it was later amended to allow each municipality to define what constitutes a high-rise.
Gilmore, who lives in downtown Chicago, said the bill is desperately needed.
"If we don't learn the lessons from
September, shame on us," Gilmore said. "I'm sure there are politically
101 holes you might or might not be able to poke into it, but people need
to know that when they go to work or if they're visiting, that they can
get out of a building in an emergency."
Copyright 2000, Digital Chicago Inc