New York City preparing new codes for evacuation elevators

Evacuation philosophy for skyscrapers is changing

April 14, 2015 |
New York City preparing new codes for evacuation elevators

Rookery Building, Chicago. Photo: Velvet via Wikimedia Commons

New York City’s Fire, Buildings, and City Planning Departments in New York are writing rules to govern occupant-evacuation elevators, reflecting a change in philosophy of how to evacuate people from skyscrapers in an emergency.

The evacuation elevator cars can be used to move people down in an emergency in special circumstances. This is a dramatic change from decades of codes and practices based on the notion that elevators are perilous and undependable in fires or other emergencies.

That approach has become outmoded and is potentially dangerous for the extremely tall skyscrapers increasingly marking the New York skyline, city officials now believe. New York’s regulations now include the “third stair” in commercial towers higher than 420 feet. Builders of new high-rises must provide one more means of emergency exiting than the typical two stairways.

The City Planning Commission approved a measure that would allow developers to satisfy this requirement by providing an extra stairway (which would not be counted against the square footage they are allowed to build), by providing wider stairways and some occupant-evacuation elevators, or by making all elevators comply with occupant-evacuation standards. 

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