When designing MEPT systems for a new or existing building project, design engineers not only create these systems to ensure an optimally functioning building and comfortable occupants – they also must keep worst-case scenarios in mind. Life safety and fire protection systems are the standard for ensuring the safety of both people and property, but these systems alone may not be all-inclusive when it comes to people with mobility issues. However, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there are now codes in place to ensure equal access to life-saving services for all building occupants. The two systems, which are both governed by overlapping but different applications of the codes as adopted by local municipalities and AHJ, are Area of Rescue Assistance (or Area of Refuge Assistance) and Area of Rescue Emergency Communication Systems.
Area of Rescue Assistance is a space that provides an emergency communications system for people with mobility issues to safely communicate their location to emergency responders for assisted evacuation. These spaces are typically located in enlarged elevator lobbies and stairway landings and are generally required on each floor of a high-rise building. Beyond location criteria, section 4.1.3 (9) of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) provides requirements for the size of the space, two-way communication systems, identifying signage and other design features. One common source of confusion is that Area of Rescue Assistance systems are generally not required in buildings equipped with an automatic sprinkler system.
Area of Rescue Emergency Communication Systems are related to Area of Rescue Assistance space, but significantly different in code application. While there are exceptions, an Area of Rescue Emergency Communication System is required except for service and freight elevators, for private residence elevators, or for I-2 or I-3 facilities. The International Building Code (IBC) 2015 and 2018-1009.8 provide requirements for this system, including its capabilities (for example, two-way communication between an elevator call box and the fire command center or a timed automatic telephone dial out to a monitoring station or 911), location, identification signage, instructions for use and accessibility accommodations, such as braille.
While this isn’t an exhaustive view of all applicable codes associated with these systems, it’s my hope that this can serve as a planning aid to ensure property owners and those in the AEC industry are aware of emergency communication requirements. HAWA encourages each project team to perform their own due diligence in research and application to their unique project conditions, location and use group. HAWA can help you navigate the complex requirements for these life-saving systems – let’s get a conversation started today.