An area of refuge is defined as an area where persons unable to use stairways can remain temporarily to await instructions or assistance during emergency evacuation (Section 202). This could include people with mobility related activity limitations, the elderly, the very young, people with respiratory conditions, heart conditions and the like. Essentially, an area of refuge is an important aspect to universal design in terms of emergency evacuation.
Every required area of refuge must be accessible from the space it serves by an accessible means of egress. The maximum travel distance from any accessible space to an area of refuge shall not exceed the travel distance permitted for the occupancy in accordance with Section 1016.1. Every required area of refuge shall have direct access to a stairway complying with Sections 1007.3 or an elevator complying with Section 1007.4. Where an elevator lobby is used as an area of refuge, the shaft and lobby shall comply with Section 1022.10 for smoke-proof enclosures except where the elevators are in an area of refuge formed by a horizontal exit or smoke barrier.
Each area of refuge must be sized to accommodate one wheelchair space of 30 inches by 48 inches (762 mm by 1219 mm) for each 200 occupants or portion thereof, based on the occupant load of the area of refuge and areas served by the area of refuge. Such wheelchair spaces shall not reduce the required means of egress width. Access to any of the required wheelchair spaces in an area of refuge shall not be obstructed by more than one adjoining wheelchair space.
Each area of refuge shall be separated from the remainder of the story by a smoke barrier complying with Section 709 or a horizontal exit complying with Section 1025. Each area of refuge shall be designed to minimize the intrusion of smoke.
Areas of refuge are not required in the following situations:
- At stairways in buildings equipped throughout by an automatic sprinkler system installed in accordance with Section 903.3.1.1 or 903.3.1.2.
- Stairways serving open parking garages.
- Smoke protected seating areas complying with Section 1028.6.2.
- Group R-2 occupancies, being residential occupancies containing sleeping units or more than two dwelling units where the occupants are primarily permanent in nature, including apartment houses, boarding houses, dormitories, hotels, motels and the like.
View other parts of the International Building Code (IBC) accessible means of egress:
- Accessible routes (referred to as continuous accessible paths of travel in some legislation)
- Stairways (including interior exit, interior exit access and exterior exit stairways)
- Elevators (also referred to as passenger lifts in some countries)
- Platform lifts
- Horizontal exits
- Areas of Refuge
- Exterior area for assisted rescue
- Two-way communication
- Accessible signage
- Directional signage
- Where an exit stairway forms part of the accessible means of egress is must include either an ‘area of refuge’or an exterior ‘area for assisted rescue’