What Is an Area of Refuge?

Jun 06, 2019

Area of Refuge Systems

An area of refuge is a place in a building where people can safely wait for rescue and call emergency responders for help. It also is called an area of rescue assistance.

An area of refuge is part of U.S. federal law, enacted in 1990 as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also is part of the International Building Code requirements for all new or change-of-use, multi-story buildings in nearly every state in the United States.

In an emergency, stairways are the main way to escape a multi-story building. For those who are disabled, sick, or elderly, accessing the stairs may not be possible. What should they do?

If they try to maneuver the stairs when they know they are unable, they put their safety at risk and the safety of others. If they don’t use the stairs, where do they go to stay safe, and how can they alert emergency responders to their location?

An area of refuge protects many more than just those with disabilities. Even if occupants of the building can use the stairs, there are situations where escape via the stairway is no longer possible because there is a fire or other danger on a lower floor.

emergency escape plan

Area of Refuge Requirements

In general, there are several common requirements for an area of refuge.
  • It must be next to the emergency exit path
  • It doesn’t block others who are trying to get out
  • It has the same protection and fire rating as the stairwell
  • It is well labeled to direct people to its location
  • It has fresh, outside air to breathe
  • It is big enough for one or more wheelchairs, depending on the size of the building
  • It is equipped with a two-way communication system so those waiting can call emergency responders

fire plan

When is an area of refuge required?

Does your multi-story building have an area of refuge? Should it? The only way to know for sure is to contact the Authority Having Jurisdiction in your municipality.
If you need to install an area of refuge, it’s important to work with the right security provider. Look for providers who are:
  • Licensed Fire Protection Engineers
  • NICET-certified technicians
  • Well-versed in local and national building codes
Life safety and fire protection systems have been our specialty for over 45 years. At FSS, we can work with you, your architects, engineers, and the Authority Having Jurisdiction to make sure your building’s life security systems meet all current building codes and your company’s specific needs.

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