A massive power outage struck New York, Connecticut, and parts of Ohio, Michigan, Toronto, Hamilton, and Ottawa on Aug. 14, 2003. During the first few hours of this power outage, elevator call centers reported thousands of calls from customers: Many of those phone calls were made in reference to entrapments (simply meaning that elevator passengers were actually trapped inside elevator cars).
Since there is no way to plan for power outages such as this one, passenger entrapments are likely to occur during a loss of power. In the event of an entrapment, it is recommended that any evacuation of passengers from elevator cars be performed by qualified elevator personnel; their experience and expertise ensures the resourcefulness necessary to cope with the various complex hazards that may arise during these situations.
There are measures that facilities managers can take, however, to ensure safety and security of passengers should a power outage occur:
1) All elevators should be equipped with an ADA-compliant elevator phone. If there is no phone installed in the elevator, there is no means of communication between the passengers trapped inside and building security or a call center.
2) All elevators should be equipped with emergency lighting. In the event of a power failure, the lack of any back-up emergency lighting will keep passengers sitting in the dark.
3) Regarding hydraulic elevators: Emergency battery back-up elevator-lowering devices are available that automatically activate if there is a loss of power. These products are very beneficial during a power outage; they activate and lower elevators to the main landing, and open the elevator doors so that entrapped passengers can safely exit.
4) Regarding traction elevators: If your building is equipped with an emergency power supply, it may be possible to interface that emergency supply with the elevator control system. Contact your elevator service provider for details.
In the event of a power loss, an unqualified individual should never attempt to access the elevator in order to free entrapped passengers. The same rule applies to entrapped passengers that are trying to break out of an elevator: Reports have shown that many injuries occur when people attempt forcible entry or exit from an elevator car. To eliminate the safety risk involved with “escape attempts” by unqualified personnel, building managers and facilities professionals need to be patient, remain calm, and wait for experienced elevator personnel to arrive on-site to safely handle the situation.
During a power outage, responsible building personnel should communicate immediately with any occupants trapped in the elevator to let them know that they are safe and that help is on the way. By conveying this message, facilities managers will have better success in keeping passengers calm and cooperative.
Facilities managers can increase communication on a regular basis with their staff and other building occupants through meetings addressing elevator safety do’s and don’ts. Communication is the key when it comes to general elevator safety.
Scott Brugh is marketing manager for Moline, IL-based KONE Inc. (www.kone.com).