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Elevator Messaging Strategies
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Issue 55: Elevator Messaging Strategies

By Bryan Hoskins, Ph.D.

Recent editions of the model building codes began to include provisions for occupant evacuation elevators.1,2 They specify the physical requirements of the evacuation elevators (e.g., shaft design, elevator lobby design, and protection of elevator mechanical equipment), but not the information needs of the occupants as they wait for the elevators.


In an emergency, people need to be provided with information in order to make an informed decision. How will people know whether they should stay and wait or use the stairs for evacuation? Without adequate information, the people could experience waits that they find unacceptable.


Waiting Time

When using evacuation elevators, people will need to wait for the elevator to arrive at their floor. In order to decide whether to use the evacuation elevators or some other egress component, building occupants need to know how much time each option will require. When other floors are to be serviced before a particular floor, an estimated time should be given.


When the estimated time is the maximum time, the evacuation elevator will service the people that are waiting either before or at the time that they are expecting. People will accept being served early, but perceiving that their spot in line is being skipped is not accepted.3


If people are told that the evacuation elevator will arrive at a certain time and it is not there at that time, they could start to feel anxiety and lose trust in other information that they have been provided. Thus, the upper bound of the expected arrival time would eliminate this potential source of anxiety. As for how to present the information, providing countdown information has been the preference for people experiencing other situations that required them to wait.4,5,6


Source of Message

While being able to know how long they will be expected to wait is valuable information, people should be able to trust that the information that they are given. This can be accomplished by providing information about the source of the message, i.e., from where (or whom) the information originated.


If they do not trust the information that they are provided, they may seek additional information. The source should be someone or something that has a position of authority and/or is trusted to be knowledgeable about what is going on (e.g., employer, building management, or the fire department).


Actions Required

Along with knowing who is providing them with information, people should know what actions they need to undertake.7 In the case of evacuation elevators, people may need to know whether they need to relocate to the elevator lobby and then wait there for the elevator to arrive.


Additionally, people may wish to understand why they have to do these actions. Knowing what is happening allows people to make informed decisions. Rather than simply telling people that they need to evacuate, occupants should be told as much information about the event as is known. If possible, the event and location (e.g., a fire on the eighth floor) should be given to the building population.


With this information, they can personalize the risk and decide if they would be more comfortable waiting for the evacuation elevator or using some other egress component - like the stairs.


Changes in Service

Finally, during a building evacuation, conditions can change that could remove the evacuation elevators from service. If this occurs, people should be informed that they should no longer wait and instead be use an alternate means of egress.


In order for people to trust the information, they may wish to know why they are now being asked to do something different. As with other messages, a trusted source should deliver the message. Then, the people should be told what has caused the change as well as what it is that they need to do.


Sample Messages

Based on what types of information people need, two sample messages are provided. The specific details can be altered to match the actual events.


This first sample message is an example of a message that could be provided to people waiting in an evacuation elevator lobby:


This is Building Management.
You need to evacuate the building because of a fire on the ninth floor.
Please wait ten minutes for the next evacuation elevator or use the nearest stair.


The first line of the message provides people with the source of the message. The second line lets people know what they need to do and why they need to do it. The third line is the expected waiting time for the elevator.


If at a later point the evacuation elevators need to be taken out of service, a sample message could be:


This is Building Management.
The elevators are now out of service because of a mechanical issue.
Please evacuate the building using the nearest stair.


In this message, the first line provides the source of the information and the last two lines identify why a change in action is required and what the new action should be. The message lets people know what they need to do, why they need to do it, and who is the source of this information.


For additional recommendations on developing messages for evacuation elevators, please see the work of Kuligowski and Hoskins.8

  1. International Building Code, International Code Council, Washington, DC, 2009.
  2. NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2012.
  3. Larson, R., "Perspectives on Queues: Social Justice and the Psychology of Queueing," Operations Research, Volume 35, Number 6, 1987, pp. 895-905.
  4. Battelle Memorial Institute & Multisystems, I. "Customer Preferences for Transit AITS," Federal Transit Administration Research Report, Federal Transit Administration, Washington, DC, 2003.
  5. Cham, L., Darido, G., Jackson, D., Laver, R., and Schneck, D. "Real-time Bus Arrival Information Systems Return-on-Investment Study," Federal Transit Administration, Washington, DC, 2006.
  6. Zhang, F., Shen, Q., and Clifton, K. "Examination of Traveler Responses to Real-Time Information About Bus Arrivals Using Panel Data," Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, Volume 2082, 2008, pp. 107-115.
  7. Mileti, D. and Sorensen, J., "Communication of Emergency Public Warnings." ORNL-6609, Oak Ridge: National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN, 1990.
  8. Kuligowski, E. D. and Hoskins, B. L. "Elevator Messaging Strategies," Fire Protection Research Foundation, Quincy, MA, 2011.

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