How Good Is Your Emergency Lighting?

Nov. 15, 2001
You may not know until you need it

By Drew Marchetti

The issue of liability faces every building owner and facilities manager, regardless of the type of facility or the number of people who occupy it. Everyone knows that emergency lighting equipment is mandated by various federal, state, and local safety and electrical codes. But, too often, this equipment is installed and forgotten.

On the day after a town-wide power outage, the headmaster of a private school was concerned because emergency lighting units on the campus failed to work. This is a classic example of the importance of maintaining emergency lighting equipment and lessening the possibility of panic and injury during a power outage or other emergency.

The school is in a rural area, which often experiences power outages. Here, the headmaster thought that the maintenance department took care of the exit signs and emergency light equipment. Understaffed and overworked, the school's maintenance department had not checked the equipment regularly.

Many building owners depend on in-house maintenance staffs to perform checks of emergency equipment and systems. But maintenance workers may not have the training, the time, or the experience to provide the regular and proper maintenance of these critical life-safety systems.

Emergency lighting equipment and exit signs are required in all commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings to provide sufficient illumination for safe and orderly egress during a power outage, fire, or other emergency. But emergency lighting equipment is not simply a series of illumination products; rather, these products are specially designed for life-safety applications, satisfying specific code requirements. State and local inspectors can visit unannounced at any time to inspect equipment for reliable operation.

The National Electrical Code and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Life Safety Code, which detail installation requirements, operating parameters, and guidelines for regular maintenance, require monthly testing and record-keeping. In addition, many state fire codes require a 30-second test of all emergency lighting equipment monthly, and a 90-minute full battery discharge once a year. Many facilities would not pass inspection.

Building owners have learned that regular service and the upgrading of emergency lighting equipment can drastically reduce their labor, maintenance, installation, and utility costs, thus reducing their operating budgets while increasing the safety of their facilities. Outsourcing the maintenance of emergency lighting equipment with an expert firm can be economical and labor-saving, while assuring that everything will work when it is needed.

With changing demographics and growth in many areas, including the construction of assisted-living facilities, as well as increased municipal budgets for schools, libraries, and athletic facilities, the next decade will bring an even greater emphasis on public safety issues.

Last semester, a prolonged power outage in the early evening created some problems at the unfortunate private school previously mentioned. Youngsters were unable to exit the library and dormitories easily because too many emergency lights were inoperable. And a basketball game in the gym was plunged into total darkness. Not surprisingly, there was a sense of panic among the students and staff. Although there were no injuries, a lot of tension and unease lingered among students and staff.

The next day, the headmaster called a local emergency lighting maintenance organization for a solution. Fortunately, this kind of situation is avoidable. This is too critical an issue to let slide. We live in a litigious society and too many building owners take unnecessary risks by not maintaining their equipment.

Is your emergency lighting properly and regularly maintained? Does it comply with NFPA 101? Will your equipment provide building occupants with a means of safe egress when needed? When was the last time your emergency equipment was checked? Get the facts on an emergency lighting equipment contract from specialists who concentrate on these products.

Drew Marchetti, founder and wpresident of Life Safety Service & Supply LLC ( in Cheshire, CT, has many years of experience in the emergency lighting equipment industry.

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