Emergency Exit Standards: Could they Benefit from New Evacuation Options?

Emergency exit standards vary by country and locale, with some countries and cities prohibiting what other countries and cities allow. In the U.S., the standard emergency exit option is vertical exit enclosures, the long stairwells that building occupants use in the event of fires, black outs, and other emergencies. In most cases, vertical enclosures that comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and International Fire Code (IFC) standards for egress safety lead to safe evacuations. But there are also instances where safety complaint exit enclosures may not offer safe passage, such as when:

  • All floors of a high rise are compelled to evacuate immediately, causing crowded enclosures
  • A fire makes vertical exit enclosures inaccessible to building occupants on upper floors
  • Or a building contains occupants who cannot use stairs

The solution for these scenarios appears to lie in alternative emergency exit options. Below are three options that have been proposed as new standards in response to the emergency egress problems listed above.

Flexible exit chutes

Flexible exit chutes come in two varieties: angled chutes that aim away from buildings, and chutes that travel straight down, their circumference gradually narrowing to slow the passenger’s descent. The first chute requires a fair amount of space for deployment, while the second one needs only a vertical path to the ground. In Asia, both types of chutes are used frequently. In the U.S., however, their use is typically limited to aircraft towers, where they serve as a supplemental means of evacuation. Implemented in the right type of building, flexible chutes could reduce the number of evacuees in exit enclosures.

Helicopters or helium balloons

Helicopters and helium balloons have been proposed as evacuation options for building occupants who stay on rooftops to avoid fire and smoke. In addition to being expensive to buy and maintain, helicopters would also be inefficient for transporting a significant number of evacuees in a short period of time. Balloons, while potentially more efficient than helicopters, pose the problem of retrieving a person from a balloon once it takes flight.

Mechanical lifts

Mechanical lifts are ideal for evacuating building occupants who cannot descend stairs. To this end, they are often found in hospitals, and in assisted rescue areas of large buildings. Larger lifts that hold a significant number of evacuees are feasible as a supplemental means of evacuation. In terms of financial feasibility, however, they should be implemented during a building’s development phase, not after construction is complete.

The importance of Emergency exit standard signs and markings

While the above options show merit for addressing evacuation issues that vertical exit enclosures cannot, ensuring that vertical exit enclosures are correctly constructed and outfitted with IFC mandated luminescent markings and signage should remain the primary strategies for evacuation safety in commercial buildings.

At Jessup Manufacturing, we support evacuation safety by offering luminescent egress markings and signage that comply with numerous emergency exit standards. If your building’s vertical exit enclosures are still without IFC compliant egress markings and signage, contact us today to learn how a luminous egress system can improve evacuation safety.

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