Elevator messaging strategies

Fire Protection Research Foundation report: "Elevator Messaging Strategies" (PDF)
Author: Erica D. Kuligowski, Ph.D. and Bryan L. Hoskins, Ph.D., National Institute of Standards and technology (NIST), Gaithersburg, MD
Date of issue: December 2011


Passenger elevators allow building occupants to quickly and efficiently overcome the natural limitations of vertical building height. It is a technology that has enabled easy access to any level of a multiple story building of any height, and has been a key factor for the proliferation of modern high-rise buildings in today’s built environment. Outside of North America “elevators” are also referred to as “lifts”.

During an emergency or other situation it is normal practice to alert and instruct building occupants to take certain appropriate actions (e.g. evacuate the building). At any particular moment, building occupants may be using an elevator and they may require special instructions depending on the situation. Further, during a building emergency the use of elevators usually continues to assist with the evacuation of occupants with disabilities as well as providing building ingress for emergency responders via controlled manual use.

Since 2004, the US codes and standards organizations have been engaged in an intensive effort to allow building elevators to remain is use for occupant evacuation prior to Phase I recall. This effort, being lead by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has resulted in many changes to the model codes in order to address the infrastructure changes needed in building design. These changes involve subjects such as elevator shaft design, lobby design, and access and hardening of the elevator mechanical equipment. An outstanding task from this ongoing effort is the need to develop an operational and messaging strategy for the building occupants. Currently there are no requirements or widely recognized guidance for standard messages used in elevators, both for building occupants and emergency responders.

This project establishes guidance for emergency message content (audible and visual) and delivery based on the threat or hazard, the stage of the event (including pre-event), the sources and recipients of the communications, recommended message content and format, and the methods of message delivery. This report provides tools and message templates for use by elevator designers to address emergency events internal to the building, and addresses the needs of all building occupants including those with disabilities and emergency responders.

Related report

NFPA's "High-Rise Building Fires" report.