NFPA Members and AHJs can use the Technical Questions tab to post queries on NFPA 72 document information webpage.

Author(s): Wayne Moore. Published on January 2, 2019.

In Compliance | NFPA 72

New code changes for occupant evacuation elevators


It’s always a good idea at the beginning of the year to take stock of the direction the codes are headed, and the 2019 edition of NFPA 72,® National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®, reflects several important changes.

Among the important revisions are the requirements for fire service access elevators and occupant evacuation elevators (OEE) where elevators are to be used for occupant self-evacuation during fires and non-fire emergencies. This concept obviously flies in the face of our consistent message in the past that building occupants should not use the elevator during a fire. The requirements for the special elevator operation were completely revised to coordinate with changes made in ASME A17.1/CSA B44, Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators, where the requirements for occupant evacuation operation are revised extensively. Annex text has been added for clarification, along with a new Figure A.21.6, Simplified Occupant Evacuation Operation (OEO), which provides guidance to the designer on the expected sequence of operation of the specialized operation of the elevators. Figure A.21.6 will also help the authority having jurisdiction to better understand how the fire alarm system and elevator system must operate when interfaced for this operation.

NFPA 72 is explicit in the type of detection coverage needed and requires monitoring and display of signals received on a building fire alarm system annunciator, or other annunciators as approved by the authority having jurisdiction. The monitoring of the temperature and presence of smoke in elevator lobbies, machine rooms, control rooms, machinery spaces, or control spaces is central to effective OEO design. Additionally, OEO is required to apply separately to each individual elevator and to elevators having group automatic operation or that are designated as an elevator group or group of elevators, and where the operation can only happen prior to “elevator phase I emergency recall operation” as defined in the Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators.

Although OEO and OEE are intended for very tall buildings, this defined operation is being specified by at least one government agency for buildings 12 stories or more in height. OEE and OEO are only initiated upon an automatic or manual signal from the fire alarm system to the elevator system.

OEO includes requirements for clear and constant communication. Chapter 24 has been revised to include requirements for stairway communications systems, elevator landing communications systems, and occupant evacuation elevator lobby communications systems. The code requires the wiring for these systems to have a survivability Level 2 or 3.

OEO also requires clear messaging to the occupants on the floors where they can use the elevators for self-evacuation. The messages provided for the fire alarm system must also be coordinated with the elevator system’s variable message signs in all elevator lobbies. These messages must inform the occupants of the need to evacuate and that elevator service is available for evacuation. Additionally, automatic voice messages must be transmitted to the floors that are not in the elevator evacuation zone and are served by the group, to inform occupants that elevator service is not available as well as to the floors in the elevator evacuation zone when no elevators serving that elevator evacuation zone are available.

The changes to the code to accommodate the use of elevators for fire service use and occupant evacuation will require study and coordination between designers of the fire alarm system and the elevator supplier, as well as extensive coordination between the fire alarm contractor and the elevator contractor to ensure the installation is performed correctly. Clearly, the OEO will also require extensive training for occupants to be comfortable with this newly accepted method of building evacuation.

WAYNE D. MOORE is vice president at Jensen Hughes.