Elevator Safety for Harsh Weather and Natural Disasters

08/24/2018 | By Kevin Brinkman

The rise of urbanization in the U.S. means an influx of people moving into various cities—and urban mobility becoming an integral component to the operation of these densely populated areas. This does not just mean getting from one part of the city to another, but rather to the 55th floor of an office building or out of a subway station buried deep beneath the city streets.

Tremendous technological and engineering advances have been made in the vertical mobility sector, including preparation for harsh weather and natural disasters.

Related: Top 10 Ways IoT is Changing Elevators

These adverse events are inevitable, and the elevator industry continues to develop codes and push safety features in their products to stay ahead of whatever cards Mother Nature decides to play. (She played a heavy hand in 2017, with cumulative damage of last year’s floods, fires and other weather events exceeding $300 billion).

Standard safety tips offer a good baseline for passengers’ elevator safety knowledge, but it is important to shed light on anything that can be put in place to ensure riders’ safety in an emergency, harsh weather event or otherwise.

ASME A17.1 Safety Code 

First, a quick background: The ASME A17.1/CSA B44 Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators (A17.1) is used regularly throughout North America for new product elevator and escalator designs and their respective installations. The code itself undergoes updates every three years by a panel of experts with broad representation across the industry.

Safety is a common goal for all stakeholders in the industry.

Code-writing bodies, legislators and regulators, equipment manufacturers, labor unions and local jurisdictions all help further the common goal of safety for those who install, operate, maintain, repair and ride in elevators. Building managers also value the importance of building resiliency in these events.

New elevator products and technologies that increase the durability of the elevator units have become paramount to overall safety objectives.

Occupant Evacuation Operation

One piece of technology that has relevance across all types of emergencies and is gaining a lot of traction is Occupant Evacuation Operation or OEO. In buildings with OEO, passengers are able to use an elevator in the event that an evacuation is required, so long as the elevator is not compromised.

OEO was conceptualized after 9/11 in order to effectively evacuate high-risk areas of a building. This is crucial, because as cities plan for taller buildings, appropriate plans of action need to be put in place and communicated with building managers in the event of a crisis. The progression of building designs toward taller structures and overall elevator technology advancements have made OEO a viable option across the country.

Most notably, San Francisco has adopted and introduced OEO in several buildings, emphasizing the backing and acceptance of this initiative.

Flood Protection Technology

When it comes to adverse weather events, the elevator industry continues to collaborate on ways to mitigate flood damage. Several advances have been made on this front, including technology that does not allow elevators to travel to lower levels where there is flooding.

By having a back-up power system installed, the elevators may be able to continue to operate during adverse conditions, and A17.1 requires emergency communications in every elevator, ensuring a sense of relief and comfort to those in need.

It is important for building managers to be prepared and aware these precautions are in place before any weather event hits. Setting up a process with other building staff and elevator technicians, and even running a practice drill ahead of time, helps to ensure everyone is on the same page.  

Building Fires

In the event of a building fire, there have been many advancements in the ASME code over the years, addressing the elevators’ involvement in evacuating people, and controlling and eliminating the fire itself.

Firefighter’s Emergency Operation:

  • Phase I, Emergency Recall Operation involves taking civilians to a designated safe egress area, and appropriately leading them to safety.
     
  • Phase II, Emergency In-Car Operation allows firefighters to use elevators as a tool, helping them move equipment or personnel to fight the fire at hand. This is key in hi-rise buildings, since firefighters serve such a pivotal role in these efforts and will need to reach higher areas in a timely manner.

There have been incredible advancements made with elevators, their positioning and the increasingly important role they will play when harsh weather and natural disasters hit. It is the industry’s hope that the development and overall awareness of these advancements leads to increasingly prepared building managers and contributes to the public knowledge of safety precautions put in place.

Kevin Brinkman, vice president of codes and safety at National Elevator Industry, Inc.

Kevin Brinkman is the Vice President of Codes and Safety at National Elevator Industry, Inc.


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