Developing elevators that function during fires

October 23, 2003

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, U.S. fire experts are beginning to advocate the use of elevators in high-rise buildings throughout a fire, both to carry firefighters to the site of the blaze and as a secondary method (after stairwells) for evacuating building occupants. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has joined others to study ways to build "protected" elevators.

As reported at a recent conference in Malaysia,* NIST is working with the elevator industry to develop and test redundant, more reliable elevator-dedicated emergency power systems and waterproof elevator components. NIST is investigating software and sensing systems that can adapt to changing smoke and heat conditions, maintain safe and reliable operation, and not shut down during fire emergencies. Such changes could allow elevators to be operated with remote control from the ground floor during fires, thus freeing urgently needed firefighters from elevator operation duties.

NIST also will use its expertise in virtual reality simulation to test scenarios for coordinating firefighting activities, elevator egress and stairway evacuation. By incorporating elevators into its graphic computer models, NIST will help fire safety experts identify the most effective operational procedures for specific fire conditions. NIST fire researchers hope to collaborate on emergency elevator operations standards with colleagues from around the world. Global standardization should reduce confusion during an emergency, enabling people to take evacuation actions with confidence.
* Richard W. Bukowski, "Protected Elevators for Egress and Access During Fires in Tall Buildings" Proceedings, CIB-CTBUH International Conference on Tall Buildings, Oct. 20-23, 2003

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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