Posted by: RJ the Fire Dog Blogger | June 29, 2010

Evacuation Elevators Aid in Rescue Efforts

Elevators can be used for safe emergency escape.

They go up. They go down. They go up. They go down. We aren’t talking about yo-yos or those pesky squirrels. Today’s topic is elevators. A vital part of your building that is often taken for granted; elevators have amazing durability and safety records. Folks have even created lighthearted lists of “elevator etiquette.” Unfortunately one of these etiquette rules is likely entitled, “Don’t bring Fido onboard.” A new type of elevator for high-rise buildings transforms them from people- and equipment-movers to potentially life-saving machines.

A comprehensive study conducted on evacuation methods after the September 11 attacks showed that thousands of lives were spared by tenants’ usage of elevators as methods of evacuation. This conclusion, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom, has prompted the International Code Council to recommend code changes that will require evacuation elevators for buildings that are 420 feet and higher.

Benefits of Evacuation Elevators:

  • Tenants can simply exit the building more quickly by using a combination of elevators and stairwells, which greatly reduces the risk of personal injury.
  • Tenants with limited mobility do not need to be carried down flights of stairs, which speeds evacuation traffic flow for everyone. Moreover, anyone with a seeing-eye dog will be able to get out fast!
  • Firefighters can use elevators to quickly access higher-floor fires, allowing them time to prevent fires from spreading.

Issues for Building Management to Consider:

  • Evacuation elevators should be clearly delineated from normal transport or freight elevators by clear signage and through evacuation training.
  • Elevators are only designed to be used before what is known as “Phase 1,” which is the point when smoke or other danger has been detected and elevators are called back to either the ground or other landing floor.
  • The NFPA Life Safety Code has been changed to reflect evacuation elevator usage, and includes guidelines on elevator location, lobby size and restricting sprinklers from elevator machine rooms.
  • A key design feature of evacuation elevators is their ability to keep out smoke and water. Smoke is only good when used as a flavor for rawhide bones, not in an elevator! Building owners should carefully review all applicable codes before beginning construction.
  • Owners and facility managers will have to work hard to convince tenants that using the elevators is safe, in spite of a lifetime of warnings to “only use the stairs.”

For building owners with high-rise properties, the addition of evacuation elevators could add yet another layer to tenant safety and building protection strategies. The installation and usage of these elevators should follow strict fire and engineering codes and be thoroughly tested by the appropriate agencies before being put into service. I tried to fashion a pulley elevator in my two-story doghouse. Let’s just say it was not a success.

Check out our blog next week, which will be the first in a series about fire safety and prevention – which are, of course, my favorite topics!

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

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