Photoluminescent Exit Systems: Understanding the Impact of Blackouts on Implemented Egress Measures

The 2003 Northeast Blackout interrupted a variety of infrastructure components in major metropolitan areas including New York City. Electricity was unavailable in numerous buildings in eight different states for a timeframe spanning from six to sixteen hours. Electrical systems, water supplies, transportation services, cellular communication, and factories in the Northeast were affected over this period of time. The state of New York was almost completely ridden of power with a few locations in Long Island remaining to have electricity. Wall Street, the United Nations, major airports, and transportation were shut down in Manhattan. A large number of people became trapped in stalled elevators and transportation sources throughout New York City did not operate. Those trapped in large structures had no visual aids for exiting. People stuck in elevators had to wait for hours before help arrived. Failed traffic lighting caused a gridlock in the Manhattan area and prevented emergency services from reaching trapped individuals in several areas of the city. People in multi-story structures would have been able to make their way out had photoluminescent exit systems been present in area high rises.

Safety Signs: Self-Luminous Identifiers Supply a Visible Egress Route

The Northeast blackout was an eye opener to the importance of non-electrical based egress components. Temperatures remained in the low to mid nineties with high humidity due to an extensive rain that had just come through the area. Of the six fatalities reported after the incident, none had a direct connection to the outage. Some individuals remained trapped within multi-story structures for the duration of the outage. The resulting darkness made it more dangerous for people to attempt to find their way out rather than to sit and wait for help. Photoluminescent components in this situation would have helped everyone make their way to the nearest exit and left only those trapped in elevators in need of emergency assistance. While every structure had backup generators or another source in place, these items failed due to mechanical complications. Safety signs with self-luminous characteristics would have allowed hundreds of individuals to leave these buildings.

The event caused many to question what would have happened had the emergency been a fire where a fast exit was necessary to ensure everyone’s safety. With water supply pressure low, gridlocked traffic, and no visual means for an evacuation, a fire would have turned into a fatal disaster. Emergency responders may have not been able to make it to the high rise and trapped individuals would have been unable to reach safety. The significance of this scenario caused New York City building code officials to recognize the importance of photoluminescent exit systems. These identifiers do not require energy to be seen, become instantaneously visible as lighting or power fails, and continue to glow for hours. Their presence allows people to calmly maneuver down stairs to an exit location without harm. They also aid emergency personnel in finding elevators or equipment in a pitch black environment. Self-luminous safety signs are an essential egress addition to high rise buildings and ensure occupants have the aids they need as a blackout occurs.

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