Home » New York City plans Occupant-evacuation Elevators
Evacuation plans may be soon changing for some of the New York’s tallest skyscrapers in the coming years. The New York Fire, Buildings and City Planning Departments are framing new rules to include occupant-evacuation elevators – lifts that are compliant with occupant-evacuation standards and can be used to evacuate the building’s occupants in an emergency or special circumstance. These systems can help in shifting people from endangered floors to a safer location until the arrival of the fire department.
The new rule would overturn the decades-old notion that elevators are unsafe and undependable in cases of fires or other emergencies. Experts who have spent years studying building evacuations believe that this approach has become outmoded and is in itself potentially dangerous as tall skyscrapers are the norm across the New York City.
In the early 1970s, several fatalities occurred in high-rise building fires where people were trapped in fire-filled lift hoistways or taken to a floor where the fire was active. Regulations introduced in the late 1970s required elevators to return to the main floor and suspend passenger service if smoke was detected in hoistway, lobby or machine room passage or if a sprinkler alarm went off and warning signs appeared that instructed people to use the stairs instead.
The passage of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 and the terrorist attack on the twin towers in 2001 set the stage for a change in evacuation philosophy. The ADA provides access to the workplace for people with disabilities but does not provide them with the means to vacate quickly.
The New York fire department has a positive attitude about occupant-evacuation elevators. Recently, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers reviewed codes and standards and recommended new changes. The recent regulations require commercial buildings higher than 420 feet to install a third staircase and wider stairways as well as some occupant-evacuation elevators.The proposed measure will go to the City Council for approval and these changes if approved will be incorporated in New York’s new building code. Although these rules are not currently in use in New York, occupant-evacuation elevators are in use in other countries.
Lifts at 3 and 4 World Trade Center already have some measures the city is expected to impose for occupant-evacuation systems. The floors in front of the lift doors are slightly raised in order to prevent water from sprinklers or firefighters’ hoses entering the hoistways. To ensure uninterrupted service, the total capacity of the emergency generators has been increased. The lift stops at each floor and cores around hoistways are protected by concrete walls that are 18 inches thick.
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