Chinese floor mounted Running Man directional exit sign with light and arrow

Wayfinding Principles

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in the United States believes that there are four elements of information that people need during an evacuation:

  • Notification (What is the emergency?)
  • Use of the way (Can I get out by myself, or do I need help?), which might be evacuation independently, independently with the use of a device, or with assistance from someone else
  • Assistance (What kind of assistance might I need?)
  • Wayfinding (Where is the way out?)[1]

Wayfinding is critical for every occupant of a building, without knowing where to go a person may experience delays and during an emergency every second can count.

The principles of wayfinding allow a person that is blind or has low vision to “benefit from a well-designed environment that presents a predictable set of physical circumstances” (AS/NZS 1428.4.1). At the moment in Australia, these principles have partly been implemented by way of the general AS1428 suite of accessibility standards, but there are acknowledged gaps within these standards. As a result, a new standard, Australian Standard AS1428.4.2 Design for access and mobility – Wayfinding is being developed to detail “how to provide wayfinding solutions for people of all abilities”.[2] The standard will provide design solutions to enhance the current minimum BCA prescriptive ‘Deemed-to-Satisfy’ provisions. However, given it may be some time before the Standard is released, or adopted into the BCA, it will be a matter of time until we can confirm if the needs of all people during an emergency evacuation of a building via designated egress routes have been considered. On a positive note, Like Australia, other countries also currently mandate for some elements of exit signage in formats that include Braille and tactile information.

When it comes to the design of an accessible egress route to an exit it should be simple in design and non-confusing for occupants, particularly those who may be experiencing stress during an emergency and for those with reduced mental or cognitive abilities. Exit doorways should be in contrasting colours with simple intuitive opening mechanisms. Ideally in bright colours for ease of identification.[3]

Improving circulation and orientation with logical egress routes will not only benefit those occupants with vision impairment, but all occupants.[6] Evacuation routes should be clear to identify on emergency diagrams, without superfluous information to confuse occupants.

The addition of the proposed ‘Accessible Means of Egress Icon’ exit signs discussed within this paper could further enhance the wayfinding strategies within any regional technical standard to include the parts of an accessible means of egress (i.e. for those using a mobility aid or those with difficulty negotiating stairs). It could also identify a non-accessible route that has no provisions for egress for people with mobility restrictions using the existing exit sign design.

The addition of the proposed ‘Accessible Means of Egress Icon’ exit signs discussed within this White Paper could further enhance the wayfinding strategies within any regional technical standard to include the parts of an accessible means of egress (i.e. for those using a mobility aid or those with difficulty negotiating stairs). It could also identify a non-accessible route that has no provisions for egress for people with mobility restrictions using the existing exit sign design.

Implementation of enhanced wayfinding strategies, including the use photo-luminescence markings and the use of the ‘‘Accessible Means of Egress Icon’ exit signs would help identify the path of travel to an exit door when an exit sign is not visible. It has been known for some time that smoke development within a fire compartment, or corridor or the like, will eventually cause any exit sign installed above an exit door to be non-visible as the smoke builds ups.[4] Extension of the use of photo- luminescence wayfinding markings into the fire escape stairways will also assist people to identify stair edges, handrails and walls. During the evacuation of the World Trade Center towers in 1993 people using the stairs opened fire doors bounding the stair compartment to let light into the space, but inadvertently allowed smoke to enter the stairs.[5]

[1] National Fire Protection Association 2007, Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities, NFPA, Massachusetts, p.9

[2] Standards Australia 2011, ABCB Building Australia’s Future 2011 Challenges and opportunities regarding technical standards in the built environment, viewed 04 May 2014, http://abcb.gov.au/en/education-events-resources/national-conference/~/media/Files/Download%20Documents/Marketing%20Docs/BAF/4%20Fred%20Reynolds%20FINAL.ashx, viewed 29 August 2015

[3] Security Director’s Report 2005, ‘New Obligation for Evacuating Disabled Breeds Opportunity’, Security Director’s Report, Nov 2005, Vol. 5 Issue 11, pp. 5-6

[4] Rutherford, P & Withington DJ 1998, ‘Sound verses Sight for Emergency Egress’, Access by Design, January-April, pp. 1-3

[5] Pauls, J 1994, Vertical Evacuation in Large Buildings: Missed Opportunities for Research, pp. 11-13, http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.112.9228&rep=rep1&type=pdf, viewed 29 August 2015

[6] Fuller C 2008, Fire and Disability 2008: Special Report, Workplace Law Publishing, Cambridge

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Buildings need exit and emergency signs to identify parts of the accessible means of egress. An Accessible Exit Sign Project Initiative.

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