Emergency egress is a method of exit which people can access safely in an emergency. Many building codes cover emergency egress in detail to ensure that structures are equipped with exits which will safely accommodate people if they need to exit a structure during a fire, chemical spill, or similar emergency. The goal behind the process is to create as much redundancy as possible, so that people have many options for getting out of a structure, and that these options are easy to use even when people are panicked or confused.
In order to be considered an emergency exit, an opening must, by law, open wide enough for occupants to get out, and to allow a fully outfitted firefighter to get in. Emergency egress must also be low enough to the floor that it is easy for people to use; a large opening located well above the height of an average human, for example, is not terribly helpful in a hurry.
During an emergency evacuation, people should be able to quickly access and open a window, door, or other opening intended for emergency egress. If the opening locks, it must be easily unlocked, as for example when a window latch can be easily operated from the inside. Likewise, screens and other coverings should pop out easily so that people can clear the opening quickly. Bars and similar coverings must swing aside so that people can get out.
When structures are newly built, one of the things the building inspector does during an examination to clear the building for use is to check for emergency egress. If the building does not have adequate egress, the inspector will not clear the building until the issue has been corrected. Most building inspectors are happy to review plans and structures in progress to confirm that they meet the most current standards of the building code.
Likewise, changes to a structure which impede emergency egress or eliminate it are unlikely to be viewed favorably by building inspectors. Tenants would be well advised to confirm that they have adequate emergency exits, for their own safety, and if they do not, they should bring the issue up with the landlord. If the landlord does not want to remedy the issue, the building inspector can be consulted. Tenants should be aware that building inspectors can issue citations without informing landlords about who tipped them off, but if a recent complaint from a tenant about the same matter has been received, the landlord may assume that the citation is the result of a complaint from the tenant.