Fire Evacuation of People with Mobility Impairments Using Elevators
Kathryn M. Butler, Susanne M. Furman, Erica D. Kuligowski
The Final Report on the collapse of the World Trade Center (WTC) Towers recommended that tall buildings be designed for timely full-building evacuations from both building-specific and large-scale events. Since the WTC study, several project efforts have been established, worldwide and within the NIST Engineering Laboratory (EL), to improve the understanding of the use of elevators for facilitating occupant egress from buildings, with the goal of improving occupant safety during building evacuations. The International Code Council and the National Fire Protection Association provide requirements for the use of elevators for both occupant evacuation and fire fighter access into the building. To support the development of these standards, NISTs research on elevators has primarily focused on the technical aspects of ensuring safe and reliable evacuation for the occupants of tall buildings. However, little guidance is available on how occupants with mobility impairments may evacuate buildings effectively during fire emergencies. Whereas previous efforts have focused on the technological means necessary to incorporate elevators for occupant usage in tall buildings, there is a lack of guidance (and underlying research in elevator usage) on the ways in which these technologies could and should be used for evacuation. This paper presents a study of the evacuation experiences of people with mobility impairments from medium- and high-rise office buildings being conducted by NIST with support from the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). The focus of this research effort is twofold: 1) to gain an understanding of how building occupants with mobility impairments currently evacuate multi-story buildings in the United States during fire emergencies, and 2) to learn about the concerns of persons with mobility impairments with using elevators during fire evacuations. The data obtained from this research will provide guidance for designers and building managers.