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Using Elevators in a High-Rise Evacuation Plan

When your office building is conducting a practice fire drill, how often are you told to use the stairs and bypass the elevators? According to a recent evaluation by the International Organization for Standardization, however, using lifts may end up saving more people in high-rise buildings during fire and earthquake emergencies, as reported by an article from the Associated Press. The ISO is a 162-nation organization that sets standards for several items, including those for elevators. It recently released this report and is considering revising evacuation standards because of the taller buildings. In the not-far-off future, building designers will need to consider the use of elevators by evacuees when developing an efficient evacuation design.

This isn’t the first time elevators have been considered for evacuation purposes, however. A 2003 report by the National Research Council Canada gives a convincing argument for and a solution to using elevators for evacuation from high-rise structures. Similar to the argument used by the ISO, the NRCC report mentions that using lifts for evacuations is inevitable for high-rises, taking the stairs for buildings with over 70 stories isn’t practical (both time-wise and for physical capabilities for able-bodied workers), and, furthermore, instructions must be available inside buildings with such plans. Presently, office workers appear to possess a fear of using elevators for evacuation purposes for such reasons as burning cables and smoke hazard.

One system the NRCC report comes up with is somewhat antithetical to systems used in earthquake zones. The NRCC’s suggestion focuses on automated elevators that respond during a fire by first taking all passengers inside to the ground floor. The next step would be to address the fire floor, and the elevators would be programmed to go directly there afterward. From there, the needs of passengers on neighboring floors would be addressed. The needs of those in floors above would be addressed next, and the last step would be to help passengers with limitations on the lower floors.. Able-bodied individuals on floors not near the fire would be expected to take the stairs. Additionally, a display panel to indicate the current position of the elevators would be located on the ground floor.

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