July 15, 2020 4 min read
How many of you remember the old Nintendo game Elevator Action? In the game you play a spy, bounding to and from elevators to reach the bottom floor of a building. As you descend, you're dodging bullets and taking out bad guys along the way to your escape in a super fast 8-bit sports car. That's how your normal workday commute goes anyway, right?
While you might not be dodging bullets, I'm sure you've always wondered about what you'd do if you found yourself in a stuck elevator. Would you reenact Die Hard and climb out the top hatch and scale the cables? Probably not, considering those emergency hatches are typically locked from the outside.
I'll get into the details of what you should do if you find yourself trapped in an elevator, but this article might also serve as a reminder to always take the stairs. Not just for the reason that electronics will inevitably fail at the least convenient times, but also due to the implication that you're predictable in an elevator. If you've read up on Situational Awareness, you'll realize that an elevator boxes you into a ready made trap.
Let's first talk about your options inside the cab of an elevator. OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) requires that all elevators are thoroughly inspected every year and that additional monthly inspections for satisfactory operation are also conducted. Records of the annual inspections are also to be posted within the vicinity of the elevator, along with the elevator's maximum load limits. Load limits are to be posted in a conspicuous location both inside and outside of the elevator.
I mention these details so that you'll know what kind of regulations cover elevators on a federal level and know what to look for when it comes to load limits, etc. Checking your state regulations can be helpful too, if you want to wade through the elevator code. It's also common to see the wording in the photo below, that mentions compliance certificates (inspections) being on file somewhere other than the elevator itself.
Depending on the building you find yourself inside of and the type of elevator, most have a common car operating panel in which to make your desired floor stop selection from. In addition to the array of floor buttons, you'll also find an alarm bell button and either a dedicated phone to call for help, or a help button.
The alarm bell is there to sound an audible alarm in case of an emergency to summon help. This beats tapping out morse code on the elevator door, but the alarm might not be heard if you're away from a floor where someone can hear it. The help button should establish a two-way communication with someone that can also dispatch assistance for you if you're trapped with no way out.
Most elevators also have a top-opening emergency exit, but from what I've been able to find out in talking with elevator repair companies and a friend that's a local downtown firefighter, they're locked from the outside by law. It's not necessarily for you to access during a self-rescue attempt, but more for emergency responders to use to rescue you.
There's a few things to mention before you might even get on an elevator, that can help prevent you from finding yourself in a scenario that requires rescuing.
So what should you do if your elevator gets stuck and you feel you need to utilize the emergency options, like the help button and alarm bell?
As mentioned previously, the emergency exit hatch at the top of the elevator is more than likely locked from the outside, as required by law. You may not even be able to reach this unless there's another person in the elevator to help you, or a railing to stand on.
I'll reiterate that patience is key in a situation like this. The concept of keeping calm existed long before the British propaganda posters of WWII and is still a solid model to follow in many emergency situations.
Simply taking the time to assess your environment and determine the best course of action can work wonders, both inside an elevator and out.