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Signs of Weakness

Exit signage must meet at least the minimum standards for use, found (as one prominent example) in the National Fire Protection Association’s Life Safety Code (NFPA). This section also develops rules for the installation of exit signs (section 5-1, “Marking of Means of Egress”). As history has shown, the rules are always changing. It’s as though fire, and obviously terrorists, are always looking for signs of weakness.

Many of the last centuries exit sign standards came about because of the catastrophic Triangle Fire. The fire struck on March 25, 1911. Of the five hundred workers in the nine-story building (a high rise in those times), almost one third died.

The news caused an immediate investigation, as stories of women, trapped behind locked doors, with inadequate safeguards, had suffocated and (in several instances) leapt to their deaths. Many of the women were no more than children. The rage of the fire was intense, and estimates placed the carnage as lasting no more than fifteen minutes.

Though technology was not the harbinger of change, there were commissions established to investigate safety standards. Because so many of the workers had limited English skills, the first efforts to create ‘universal language’ signs had their footholds in the ashes of the Triangle Fire.

But problems with inadequately protected, designated, or maintained exits remain, to this day, a major factor in deaths.

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Posted on Thursday, October 18th, 2007 at 10:48 am In
Exit Signs  

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