More MS news articles for October 2000

ASU drill scares disabled

Students fear lack of evacuation plan

Tim Koors/The Arizona Republic

Kerry Fehr-Snyder
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 19, 2000

Three weeks ago, Arizona State University student NeQuetta Andrews lay in her bed shaking as the fire alarm blared in her university dorm room.

The 18-year-old special-education major was unable to move because she has multiple sclerosis and cannot get up on her own. Only later did she and a friend, Christine Coughlin, who also uses a wheelchair, learn the alarm was a drill.

But the experience brought to light something they had never before realized - in case of emergency, don't call ASU.

The university does not ensure that students with disabilities will be rescued. Students are told to call 911 and ask for emergency assistance if they cannot evacuate the building by themselves.

Some disabled students have suggested that other students help them get out of their rooms and out of the building during evacuations.

University officials maintain that is best done by emergency workers, not other students who aren't trained to handle students in wheelchairs, for example, or who might be unable to communicate with a deaf or blind person.

"A buddy system sounds like a great idea, but it could be more dangerous for everyone involved," said Bob Gomez, director of ASU's risk-management department.

Gomez also stressed that the Sept. 26 incident was a drill and that students were not in real danger.

But Andrews said she didn't know that.

"I was lying there shaking because I thought it was a real fire," she said. "I kept opening and closing my door with my clicker to let somebody know I was in my room, but nobody came for me."

Meanwhile, Coughlin, who was one room down, was doing her best to get out of bed with the help of an attendant care worker.

"It takes five to seven minutes to get me in the chair," she said.

What bothered the students most is that organizers of the drill boasted they had gotten everyone out safely within five minutes of sounding the alarm.

"That's just not true," Coughlin said. "If this had been a real fire, two people would have burned to death."

ASU officials said the women would have been rescued in time if the drill had been real because campus police and firefighters know to respond.

The American with Disabilities Act requires that students be included in a safe evacuation program, said Steve Palevitz, a Tucson-based attorney for the Arizona Center for Disability Law. "To not be included is a form of discrimination," he said.

University officials said students with disabilities are covered in the evacuation program, but conceded they need to do a better job of explaining emergency rescue procedures.

"What we learned is we need to be a little more sensitive with disabled students," Gomez said.

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8975.F