A crisis requiring evacuation is every assisted living administrator’s nightmare. Life-threatening events like a fire or flooding are stressful enough without the complexities involved in evacuating medically-fragile seniors. Administrators must not only have a comprehensive assisted living emergency evacuation plan but must ensure that staff and residents are well prepared when a crisis occurs.

The Golden Age Nursing Home fire stands as a tragic reminder of why it is vital that everyone knows exactly what to do if evacuation is necessary. In 1963, an electrical fire broke out at the facility, claiming 63 lives, one of the deadliest nursing home fires in US history.

According to Benjamin Kahn’s article, Undertrained and Understaffed: Lessons from the Golden Age Nursing Home Fire, “There were no specific written emergency procedures although the manager said she had shown all the patients where the exits were….One inspection in 1962, and also one in 1963 reported that there existed an established and documented evacuation plan. The post-disaster investigation, however, noted that there were no specific, written, emergency evacuation procedures. In fact, according to the transcribed record of witnesses, no employee had been briefed or given any instruction on how to evacuate the building.” (Anderson & Quarantelli, 1964)


An effective assisted living emergency evacuation plan protects residents, staff, and visitors. However, logistics and staffing issues can make implementation a challenge.

Staffing issues can make it especially difficult to move residents with mobility issues to safety during a crisis. Workforce issues can also make it harder to schedule staff training to ensure everyone is properly equipped to handle emergencies.

Administrators also need to coordinate crisis response with government agencies and community partners. This certainly includes emergency services but also hospitals, churches, and service organizations like the Red Cross. Evacuation procedures often require transportation agreements with third-party providers, adding yet another layer of complexity.

Creating an assisted living emergency evacuation plan

Effective emergency procedures should not be complex. In a moment of panic, there won’t be time to remember or read lengthy instructions. Roles should be clearly defined and the plan easily accessible. It should cover crises including fire, bomb threats, gas leaks, and natural disasters. To ensure emergency procedures are comprehensive and up-to-date, SeniorLivingU offers the Emergency Preparedness Manual for assisted living administrators.

Training staff

The most well-crafted plan is ineffective if staff are undertrained on how to implement it. Staff training should involve a thorough understanding of the procedures, safety measures involved, and how to manage residents who may be uncooperative. Refreshers should be conducted on a regular basis. For added convenience, SeniorLivingU offers online training for all levels of staff through the Anytime Learning Portal, including courses in fire safety, safety management, emergency procedures, and mobility issues.

Communication is key

Everyone needs to know what to do when an emergency occurs. Post evacuation maps in traffic areas. Conduct routine drills for staff and residents at different times of the day to ensure each shift is well-prepared. Inform emergency services of the plan and make sure there are copies off-site as well.

Emergency situations cannot be wholly prevented but a comprehensive emergency procedures plan, a well-trained staff, and informed residents, visitors, and community partners will lessen the impact and help save lives.

Experts in assisted living education programs

SeniorLivingU makes it easy and convenient to train all levels of assisted living staff. Developed by industry experts, SeniorLivingU educational solutions include manuals, DVDs, certificate programs, and online learning through the Anytime Learning Portal. For more information, visit our FAQ page or contact us today.