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Fire in a high-rise building: Is it safe to ride the elevator?

Monday, February 28th, 2011
People running toward an exit

Is it safe to use an elevator to exit in emergencies?

The 9/11 disasters prompted facility managers and emergency management professionals to discuss the use of elevators for egress in cases of fire-related emergencies. Among other things, the terrorist attacks shed light on the fact that, for optimum safety, certain emergencies require evacuation of all floors simultaneously instead of individually.

While not yet mainstream, research and discussion is beginning to challenge long-held beliefs. Some high-rise buildings, such as the 1,149-foot Stratosphere Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, utilize evacuation elevators due to the height of the building, which makes emergency stairway exits implausible.

So is change coming? Who will ultimately decide? Elevator use in buildings is largely managed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, who review and suggest changes for elevator codes that dictate standards for buildings throughout the country.

Challenges to implementation of evacuation elevators:

  • Changing ingrained procedures will be a challenge. Building occupants have long been told to “take the stairs during a fire.” Adapting tenants to the safety and expediency of elevator evacuation might be difficult. Intensive in-person training will need to be executed and assurances given about the newfound benefits of using elevators for speedier emergency exits.
  • Handling water from sprinklers is an engineering hurdle. If occupants need to escape quickly during a fire, it’s very likely the sprinklers will be on during evacuation. So operations and communications equipment in evacuation elevators need to be protected from potential water damage.
  • Smoke inhalation is the biggest health danger during a fire. So Smoke Control Systems should be installed, maintained and regularly inspected in elevator areas.
  • Other potential hazards, such as earthquakes causing fires, mean evacuation elevators need to be structurally reinforced.

If tenants plan to use evacuation elevators but firefighters on the ground recall all elevators to the lobby, precious time could be wasted. Working with fire department staff prevents this type of mis-communication. One way the Allied Universal Training System improves emergency communication between local fire departments and our clients is via the building-specific, automatic notifications and updates we send to fire departments with real-time information relative to Special Assistance, Floor Wardens and Fire Safety Directors. Thanks to this service, emergency personnel are well-equipped to provide assistance and direction when they arrive on scene.

Installation of dedicated emergency egress elevators is not usually valuable unless the elevators themselves are protected from fire. New codes are emerging which have been designed to protect evacuation elevators with fireproof padding and other structural safeguards. Dedicated emergency power supplies are also needed to ensure elevator occupants are not left stranded between floors during emergencies.

Widespread requirements for evacuation elevators might be on the horizon. So it’s important to stay ahead of the learning curve. Used correctly, they offer the ultimate promise of a higher degree of safety for those who work and live in high-rise structures. As always, be sure you review the latest national and local codes as they relate to fire-related procedures. It’s important to have an integrated approach to fire safety which includes sprinklers, alarms and safe evacuation routes.

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 Allied Universal, Inc. 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.

Floor Warden Facts

Monday, June 21st, 2010
A Floor Warden helps with emergency evacuations.

A Floor Warden helps with emergency evacuations.

All of our training emphasizes how tenants and building management need to work together as a unit to ensure safety. In the event of fire or other emergencies, a fast and orderly building evacuation can save lives.

Tenants with 10 or more employees are required by OSHA to have an emergency action plan to help ensure tenant safety during disasters. The selection and training of Floor Wardens is an important part of any action plan.

Typical duties of Floor Wardens:

  • Wardens and alternative Wardens need to be familiar with all tenants and their workspace locations to ensure that no one is left behind in cases of emergency.
  • A clear understanding of the proper evacuation route and gathering place are essential for preventing panic. Your tenant’s Floor Wardens should practice walking the primary and backup emergency routes to avoid any mistakes that could result from stress.
  • Floor Wardens will work with the building’s fire safety director to check off names of present employees and to note any that are missing after an evacuation.
  • Your tenant’s reception employees should keep logs of any absent employees or office visitors that are present, and share this information with the proper Floor Warden.

Floor Warden training:

  • Cross training of several tenant employees is important to account for Floor Wardens who may be absent during any given emergency or leave their position with the company.
  • Special training or equipment should be given to Wardens who have tenant employees with disabilities that will require additional evacuation assistance.
  • Instructions should be given to Wardens on the location and usage of equipment such as flashlights, radios or whistles.
  • Some tenants in large buildings might want to designate additional employees as stairwell and/or elevator monitors who will supervise safe and orderly evacuations. Floor Wardens should work closely with these monitors to keep track of employees and ensure they take the proper exit routes.

Benefits of the Allied Universal Training System:

  • Our system offers real-time updates to Floor Warden lists, which can be viewed by building management
  • We send automatic annual reminders to each Warden for training renewal
  • Our system is fully integrated with the fire department to ensure Wardens, Fire Safety Directors and the local departments have the same occupancy data for every building
  • We record user training and testing for future reference

Fire or other disasters strike quickly and often without warning. Through repetition of training and certification with our system, Floor Wardens will play an integral part in tenant safety by making sure no one is left behind in times of danger.

For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our e-based system offers the best emergency training available, with automated and integrated features. Allied Universal, Inc. is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit trade organization that promotes sustainability in how buildings are designed, built and operated. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.