The problem of elevator lobby egress
NFPA Journal®, September/October 2011
Even though elevator lobby egress is more of a problem today as a result of an array of heightened security concerns, it’s an aspect of building safety that’s sometimes overlooked.
It’s not unusual for elevator lobbies to become security buffer zones. For example, the doors from the elevator lobby may be secured, requiring the use of a card swipe or cipher lock to enter the floor. If you don’t have your access card or don’t know the access code, this creates a locked elevator lobby from which the only way out is the elevator. This could potentially trap occupants in the elevator lobby, especially if the elevators are returned to the ground floor under Phase I emergency elevator operation.
This may not be a problem during normal working hours, as the lobby doors may not be secured when a receptionist is present, but after hours, the elevator lobby doors may be locked for security while the elevator is still functional. Someone who gets off on the wrong floor or forgets their swipe card could suddenly become trapped in the elevator lobby. In the interest of occupant safety, a building cannot be designed in such a way that someone could be trapped in the elevator lobby.
The basic requirement in NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, is that elevators must comply with ANSI/ASME A17.1, Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators. This standard addresses all the safety features for the elevator, but it does not address egress from the elevator lobby. That is addressed by the Life Safety Code, Section 188.8.131.52 of the 2009 edition of which states that “Each elevator landing and lobby shall have access to at least one exit. The elevator landing and lobby exit access required...shall not require the use of a key, a tool, special knowledge, or special effort, unless permitted by 184.108.40.206.3.” Paragraph 220.127.116.11.3 is new to the 2009 edition of the code.
Thus, access to only one exit is required, but this access must be available without traveling through a locked door, although the elevator lobby may be locked in accordance with Paragraph 18.104.22.168.3, which is also new to the 2009 edition.
The requirements for door locking are found in the 22.214.171.124 section on special locking arrangements, Paragraph 126.96.36.199.3 of which requires permission for locking from the the .2.2.2 section of the occupancy chapter. If there are multiple occupancies on the same floor, all of them will have to be checked to make sure they permit such elevator lobby locking.
Fifteen provisions are required to use electric locks on elevator lobby doors, and all must be met. These provisions combine a package of protection: the electronic switch must be listed per UL 294; the building must have a fire alarm system and complete automatic sprinkler protection; a two-way communication system must be available between the elevator lobby and a constantly staffed location; the system must unlock upon loss of power to the lock; and the locking system must not be provided with emergency power. In addition, the use of delayed egress locks and access-controlled egress locking are not permitted on elevator lobby doors.
The problem of locking elevator lobby doors may occur during the original design, so review of the door hardware schedule is important. However, elevator lobby doors are more commonly equipped with security locking after the building is occupied, often during tenant fit-outs, especially if the tenant occupies the entire floor. This arrangement may not show on the tenant layout plans, so subsequent inspection may be needed. This will require constant vigilance during inspections.
Chip Carson, P.E., is president of Carson Associates, Inc., a fire engineering and code consultancy. He is a former member of NFPA's Board of Directors.