Whether static or dynamic, emergency signage must
be decipherable by everyone who sees it – not just the
employees working in your office every day, but also
guests, customers, and people who might be in your building after hours (think cleaning staff ). Make sure signage
and pre-programmed messages cover these three needs.
1) Language diversity and simplicity. Even people
who are comfortable speaking English as a second language may have a difficult time with comprehension
during the panic of a real emergency. Having an emergency message available in their first language could save
valuable seconds during an evacuation or shelter in place
Not sure which languages to include? Walker suggests
looking at which languages are represented in local voting
materials – Lone Star College, for example, is in a community with large populations of Spanish and Vietnamese
speakers, so those languages need to be included in emergency communications.
“In addition to people whose first language isn’t
English, you also want to target those who are unable to
read at a sixth grade level, which involves modifying and
shortening messages so that more people understand
what you’re trying to say,” Walker says. “Pictograms and
2) Accessibility. In addition to the ADA requirements
for posted signage, also consider making braille versions
of emergency handouts available to stakeholders ahead
of time so they can process the information before it’s
3) Visibility. Not all people with vision impairments
are completely blind – they may instead suffer from color
blindness or poor eyesight. Make your emergency signage
easier to decipher by relying on high-contrast colors and
avoiding colorful art that someone who is color-blind may
not be able to distinguish.
that will flash until you look at it to a message that completely takes over whatever is on the screen,” says Walker.
“You want to push messages out quickly and with clear
instructions on what action a person should take.”
Florida State University uses a similar strategy
with their FSU Alert Emergency Notification System,
a hybrid network of mass notification products that
includes desktop pop-ups and wall-mounted beacons
that flash lights, emit sirens, and display LED messages
that can be read from up to 15 feet away.
This sophisticated network likely saved lives during a November 2014 active shooter incident at the
university – the campus police department was able to
send a pre-programmed warning message to the entire
473-building campus within two and a half minutes of
the first gunshot. Three people were injured before the
gunman was killed on the scene by police, but the incident could have been much worse without the immediate safety notification.
The pre-scripted warning message likely saved valuable time for the dispatcher who activated the “
dangerous situation” alarm with the touch of a button. Walker
recommends developing a series of possible scenarios
customized to your facility and geographic location
that you can draw on during incidents (see “Save Time
with Pre-Scripted Messaging” on page 43).
“Ideally, your message will fit into 90 characters for
text messaging, tickers, and social media platforms
like Twitter. If you stay below 90 characters, you’re
more likely to get your message out in one text instead
of having any headers or footers push it into two,”
explains Walker. “Add a few more words and characters and you can push that message out to other social
media, like Facebook. Any message under a maximum
of 50 words can be sent via email or pushed out on
your website. With a couple of clicks, you can automatically target all kinds of different devices.”
continued on page 48
1ADA.gov: Start here to make sure your emergency signage is accessible. In addition to the entire text of the law, the Department of Justice offers
the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible
Design, a set of regulations for ADA
Titles II and III that includes an entire
chapter on signage and other communication features.
3 SMART SIGNAGE TOOLS
2OSHA: Signage and labels that designate specific dan- gers or warn against unsafe practices are covered by OSHA regulations. Standard
1910.145 details the requirements for
accident prevention tags, including
colors for each type of hazard and
when and where to use such signage.
3NFPA.org: NFPA 101, bet- ter known as the Life Safety Code, details specifics for exit signage, including the inspection timeline and
lighting options for lit exit signs.