Escape - It Makes Sense To Illuminate This Information On The Floor!
Low Location, relating to the safety way guidance system, is the ‘installation position at floor level or at a short distance above floor level for safety signs and other safety way guidance components.’ This makes such systems close to and reassuring to evacuees and reduced dependence on long observation distances for critical information.
The list of tragedies due to fire and the incidents where escape from fire and smoke is a daily report, highlight the benefits of low location way guidance systems (LLL or SWGS).
The management of escape and the need to give unambiguous information to identify and locate vital safe areas within the built environment is well documented as part of the inquiry and report after the vast majority of such incidents.
Low location way guidance systems allow an escape route to still be perceived when power loss occurs instantaneously, when any installed emergency lighting fails and when smoke should obscure any or all of the normal lighting. A number of tragedies have lead to the development and growing acceptance and installation of low location lighting with supporting, consistent and recognisable direction signage to identify the escape routes. Below are some examples of the major tragedies that have influenced this development:
1985 – British Airtours Flight 28m. Engine catches fire prior to take off and spreads to cabin, of 136 occupants, 48 die from smoke inhalation.
1987 – Kings Cross Fire in London claims 31 lives. Poor evacuation procedures and smoke inhalation was the main cause of loss of life.
1990 – Cruise Ship ÔÇ£Scandinavian StarÔÇØ catches fire. 184 perish, mainly due to smoke inhalation with smoke obscuring exit signs greatly hindering passenger evacuation.
1993 – The World Trade Centre came under attack, a bomb detonated in the underground garage killing 6 persons and in the ensuing evacuation more than 1,000 were injured.
These events highlighted the importance of having way guidance systems in low locations and its use in situations where the environment brought to light the dangers of fire and risks of losing both normal and emergency electrically powered lighting. These events also made apparent the dangerous flaw in the evacuation continuity planning of a building. Delayed evacuation times due to unfamiliar layouts and smoke obscured or absence of coherent directional signage, meant more people were overcome by toxic fumes, the primary killer in a fire.
With reference to the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, the explosion had knocked out the emergency power, including that to the emergency lighting. In the investigations, a recommendation of marked simplicity was made: In order to bypass the dependency on electricity for lighting, use photoluminescent escape (egress exit) path marking.
The advantage of using photoluminescent signage and way guidance systems is that once it has been charged, it will work, regardless of the conditions. It was as long ago as 1989 that Dr G Webber carried out research into photoluminescent markings for escape routes. In 1999 a totally independent study by the National Research Council of Canada (NRCC) showed that egress speed using a photoluminescent low location way guidance system was comparable to that in the other identical stair wells that were fully lit or lit by emergency lighting. They concluded that photoluminescent pathway marking ‘appears to be a cost-effective addition or even a potential replacement for traditional electrical emergency lighting, since it does not consume energy, requires no wiring, needs minimum maintenance and is totally reliable, provided it is installed in locations where permanent full lighting is provided.’
There are no electrical components or batteries to maintain or that could fail during an emergency. Continuous lines of light throughout corridors and stairways and at or near floor level, could prove most effective as this is the last place to be totally obscured by smoke.
The concept of photoluminescent is sound, the application is simplicity in itself and the continued maintenance of these systems is both easy and extremely cost effective. The certification of photoluminescent material is absolutely vital as not all materials available will meet the strict requirements for application; some materials are used for novelty applications, a world apart from safety products for escape route systems.
All photoluminescent materials delivered for low location way guidance systems and life saving appliance, location and identification signs should be accompanied by luminance performance test data. This should be in accordance with ISO 17398 and other standards such as for marine use in ISO 15370 giving actual performance at 25 lux or the chosen illumination condition using commonly used fluorescent light excitation.
September 11th 2001 is a day forever in people’s memories. Most will remember the terrifying events that befell the twin towers on this day. The hijacking and subsequent crashing of commercial airliners into the World Trade Center towers caused a raging inferno which soon led to the collapse of both structures and the deaths of over 2500 people. The twin towers had been fitted with the photoluminescent escape path marking and had its first great live trial. The results were decisively in favour from a number of survivors who used the ÔÇ£yellow brick roadÔÇØ to survival.
In the wake of this disaster and as a direct result of the enquiries and investigations compounded by the threat of further attacks, the New York Department of Buildings (NYCDOB) passed Local Law 26. Photoluminescent Way Guidance Systems, clearly beneficial in evacuation both as an aid and backup, were to become a requirement in all high rise office buildings across New York. This legal requirement had to be met by no later than July 2006 for existing buildings and a requirement for all future buildings of this Class in New York City. However, the task became a problem to building owners who were unfamiliar with the technology and it was this problem that influenced the NYCDOB to develop its own standard – RS 6-1.
RS 6-1 outlines the requirements of way guidance systems and specified that it was to be a photoluminescent system. It also placed requirements on the quality of the system to be installed. A taskforce representing the leading authorities over a range of disciplines were assigned to develop a standard of excellence for photoluminescent way guidance systems. The taskforce prepared and published the standard which the NYCDOB implemented via its MEA process. This is a testing standard for approving systems, known as Materials and Equipment Acceptance (MEA) process.
The International Standards Committees have influenced domestic standards across the world to provide cohesive guidance for building managers. Speed of egress is essential for effective evacuation and the use of safety signs that have been tested in accordance with ISO 9186-1 and standardised under ISO 7010, are now part of the recommendations under ISO 16069:2004 Graphical symbols – Safety signs – Safety way guidance systems (SWGS)
Safety way guidance systems consist of a number of important components with a consistent purpose – continuous and close proximity guidance throughout the escape route.
The concept of photoluminescent way guidance systems has been conceived out of tragedy, believed to work by the pioneers of its uptake, tested to work by safety research professionals, proven to work effectively by incident and made a standard of safety as a result. The system is easy to test, certify and accredit under independent 3rd party quality assurance schemes:
– NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code
– UL-924 – standard for ‘Emergency Lighting and Power Equipment’
– NYC MEA approval – Photoluminescent Products in High Rise Application
– ISO 15370 Ships and Marine Technology – low location lighting on passenger ships
Most importantly above all is its proof of effectiveness not when emergencies arise, but by the simple flick of a switch each time you turn off the lights. Its presence is a constant reminder of the need for occupants to be aware of safety provisions and evacuation training, amongst other measures aimed to save their lives in an emergency.