Designing a building project involves an intentional multi-faceted collaboration between the clients, architects, engineers, contractors, vendors and building managers. On top of the excruciating design development process between the parties, the building project has to meet cost, quality and schedule constraints in line with the contextual requirements; and most importantly, comply with the stringent international and local codes updating almost regularly on a scheduled timeframe.

Often, this alone can turn into the most daunting task for any first-time building owner as the building project needs to be code-compliant on all facets of architectural, structural and MEPF codes ranging from IBC, NFPA and more. Architecturally, apart from elevators and stairwells serving as a means of egress during emergencies, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) takes it a notch up higher with Area of Rescue Assistance.

The underlying intent of this design criteria is noble as it turns into an all-inclusive, life-saving measure for disabled people. When elevators can’t be utilized during emergency situations, occupants and end-users resort to the last option of stairwells. However, this can cause even more safety hazards for disabled people as they can’t traverse down the stairs without the need for assistance due to physical limitations. Hence, the need for Area of Rescue Assistance.

Area of Rescue Assistance Defined

Area of Rescue Assistance – also known as Area of Refuge in 2018 International Building Code 1009.6 – refers to the accessible means of egress for persons with disabilities requiring a safe temporary location, while awaiting instructions and assistance from first responders.

Under ADA Title 3 Section 7.5135 (per Section 4.1.3 (9) of ADAAG or Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines), the clause states that:

Areas of rescue assistance are generally required on each floor, other than the ground floor, of a multistory building. An accessible egress route or an area of rescue assistance is required for each exit required by the local fire code. Specific requirements are provided for such features as location, size, stairway width, and two-way communications. Areas of rescue assistance are not required in buildings with supervised automatic sprinkler systems, nor are they required in alterations.

Clearly, two-way communication is critical for the success of disaster risk mitigation strategies. Building occupants, specifically persons with disabilities, should have a means of alerting the authorities that they are in need of assistance. Consequently, emergency responders can respond to these self-identified persons and confirm that help is underway by giving further instructions to assemble and collect them at the nearest exit. ADAAG 4.3.11.4 evidently stipulates that:

A method of two-way communication, with both visible and audible signals, shall be provided between each area of rescue assistance and the primary entry. The fire department or appropriate local authority may approve a location other than the primary entry.

In retrospect, note that voice communication alone is not sufficient as this only caters to the visual-impaired, while clearly jeopardizing the safety and discriminating the deaf-mute demographic. When disabled people send a distress call, the turnkey configuration system in the Area of Rescue Assistance or the wall-mounted station panel in particular, should be activated with visual-auditory cues of 90 dB sound alarm for blinds and strobe LED lights for deaf-mute. This redirects back to the control panel at the ground floor via 22-gauge wire installed in raceways or conduits.

In such cases, responders at the point of entry will initially check the status of disabled people floor-by-floor, but nevertheless who activates the switch first, this fail-safe looped system will instigate two-way communication which will then be reset to standby mode by the central station operator once emergency is resolved.


Prepare for emergency with Area of Rescue Assistance Systems.

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Chicago’s Local Code Compliance

Evidently leading the forefront in setting a high quality standard for international code adoption, the City of Chicago strictly mandates the implementation of Area of Rescue Assistance in conformance to ADAAG 4.3.11. As stipulated in the Municipal Code of Chicago Section 13-76-076 and 13-196-086 (in reciprocity with ADAAG 4.3.11.5), such detailed provision declares that:

Each area of rescue assistance shall be identified by a sign which states “Area of Rescue Assistance” and displays the international symbol of accessibility.

For further in-depth specifications of building signage as per ADAAG 4.30.2, lettering shall be permanent with a width-to-height ratio between 3:5 and 1:1, and a stroke-width-to-height ratio between 1:5 and 1:10.

As aforementioned above, Area of Rescue Assistance is required in all multi-story buildings. Case in point, the City of Chicago mandates this on existing buildings and new construction of high-rise structures. Per 13-78-010 (c) of the Municipal Code of Chicago, high-rise buildings in need of emergency procedures are any new or existing structures over eighty (80) feet above grade, with occupancy classifications as listed below:

  • Class A: Residential
  • Class C: Assembly
  • Class D: Open Air Assembly Unit
  • Class E: Business
  • Class F: Mercantile
  • Class G: Industrial

All these high-rise buildings are further categorized by height above grade, as provided under 13-78-020 of the Municipal Code of Chicago:

  • Category 1 – Over 780 feet
  • Category 2 – Over 540 feet, up to and including 780 feet
  • Category 3 – Over 275 feet, up to and including 540 feet
  • Category 4 – 80 feet and over, up to and including 275 feet

As we further stretch the stringency and strict implementation of the Chicago’s Municipal Code, minimum requirements as per 13-78-080 (c) for the Area of Rescue Assistance also includes “the creation and posting, in all elevator lobbies, of the high-rise building's core floor plan, showing floor-by-floor corridors, stairways, evacuation routes, areas of rescue assistance and elevator lobbies.”

Final Recommendation

Given that federal, state and local governments strongly establish Area of Rescue Assistance as an essential requirement, any neglect from the parties involved in the design to construction of your building project will have impending repercussions. As clearly specified in Title 3 Section 8.4000 of ADA, the Department of Justice can bring a civil action in any United States court and may charge a penalty of $50,000 - $100,000 when it has reasonable cause to believe that such parties have been involved in practice of discrimination.

Rather than compensating for monetary damages, utilize our professional electrical expertise for proactive measures on code proficiency specifically related to Area of Rescue Assistance Systems.

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