The International Building Code: Its Impact on Evacuation Safety
The International Building Code (IBC) was created by the International Code Council (ICC) to regulate the construction quality, structural stability, and egress safety of new commercial and residential R1 buildings that feature occupancy above 75 feet from the lowest level of fire vehicle access. A version of the code has been adopted by all 50 states, making it the most recognized and practiced building safety code in the U.S. The IBC’s sister code, the International Fire Code (IFC), which regulates new and existing construction, has been adopted by at least 42 states.
IBC Requirements for Enclosures
Concerning evacuation safety, the code’s guidelines for outfitting vertical exit enclosures (referred to here as “enclosures”) with luminescent egress markings and safety signage are perhaps the most noted. According to the code’s guidelines, luminescent egress markings should be applied to the following elements within enclosures: handrails and handrail extensions, the leading edges of steps and landings, the perimeter of landing areas, potential egress path obstacles, and the doorframes and hardware of exit leading doors.
In addition to the markings, the code requires the placement of luminescent floor identification signs at every floor landing, luminescent emergency exit symbols (running man signs) on all exit leading doors, and luminescent exit signs at building exits. Combined with luminescent egress markings, the signage creates an enclosure whose dimensions and equipment are fully outlined and that presents the information needed to escape from a building in an expedient, orderly fashion.
IBC Implements Versus Emergency Backup Lighting
Prior to the IBC’s widespread acceptance, most new construction contained emergency backup lighting in their enclosures, a technology that poses two problems: it doesn’t illuminate well in the presence of smoke, and it could fail, leaving evacuees to travel exit stairwells in the dark, which happened during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, when bombs destroyed the buildings’ backup generators that fed their backup lighting.
What if your Building is Older and not Subject to the IFC?
What happened during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing led cities and states across the U.S. to take a tougher stance on emergency egress safety, a stance that lead to the nationwide adoption of IBC and IFC guidelines. If your building is new, it already features the requirements for enclosures mentioned above. But if it’s older and it isn’t located in a state that adopted a version of the IFC, it may not. If this is the case, implementing the guidelines has three major benefits: luminescent markings and signage are inexpensive; they cost less to maintain than backup lighting; they protect your building occupants against evacuation related injuries and casualties; and they protect you or your company against legal action that can result from such happenings.