Areas of Refuge

The law requires that any multi-story, commercial or public building provide a means for a disabled person to request evacuation assistance in an emergency situation. These areas of refuge are generally required on each floor, with the exception of the ground floor. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) outlines specific requirements for such features as location, size, stairway width and a means for providing two-way communications for various types of areas of refuge including:

  • A stairway landing within a smoke proof enclosure.
  • An exterior exit balcony located immediately adjacent to an exit stairway.
  • A one-hour fire resistive corridor located immediately adjacent to an exit enclosure.
  • A vestibule located immediately adjacent to an exit enclosure.
  • A stairway landing within an exit enclosure, which is vented to the exterior and is separated from the interior of the building with not less than one-hour fire-resistive doors.
  • An elevator lobby when elevator shafts and adjacent lobbies are pressurized as required for smoke- proof enclosures.

The costs associated with complying with these ADA requirements are not always on the radar screen when budgeting for a new building or renovation project, but it is important to consider these factors when planning for any project involving a multi-level building as the consequences can be severe. The Department of Justice may file civil action charges against non-compliant facilities and may require the facility to pay for damages to victims of discrimination. Another other significant factor that promises to encourage increased compliance is that insurance companies are now offering incentives for complying with the ADA’s requirements. Meeting the demands of the ADA can be challenging for building owners and property managers, especially those facing these requirements for the first time. The mandates for ADA’s area of refuge in multi-story buildings are detailed and intrinsic adding extra time and cost to the project budget. However, there are cost-effective systems available that conform to the requirements of the code, while transforming a building’s compliance into a simpler project.

If you are interested in more information about areas of refuge, please contact Jon Slagel, PE at (717) 845-7654 or

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