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By the Book

Emergency lighting, as the best technicians know, blends with standard egress lighting to create a comprehensive lighting system. Specific codes address these common purposes, as well. Take for example the National Fire Protection Association’s Life Safety Code (NFPA), found at section 101.

The code requires the installation and maintenance of emergency lighting under section 5-8, “Illumination of Means of Egress.” But codes cannot adequately address all of the eventualities of an emergency situation. Sometimes, tragedy is the best teacher.

The attack on the Trade Towers of New York in 1993 has become an industry classic…evacuation took over seven hours. The stress of the evacuation, indeed, was one of the lingering health effects in this crisis laden atmosphere. The evacuation of the Tower’s cataclysmic failure on 9/11 took a fraction of that time. The distinction was in an important measure due to the upgrades in the Trade Towers emergency power and lighting systems.

The attack in 1993 had ruptured the power ‘life line.’ Those fleeing the building had virtually no light as they struggled down the stairwells.

OSHA also requires emergency lighting under Section 1910.36 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Also because of the lesson from 9/11, OSHA has developed safety protocols to address the need to train staff to use emergency lighting effectively. The awareness of emergency lighting as a tool continues to improve preparations for the unknown. Hopefully, keeping people from groping–literally or figuratively–in the dark.

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Self Aware

One increased area of interest in emergency light fixtures comes from the integration of self-diagnostics into the fixture. While no one is (yet) making claims of robotic fixtures and self-repairing units, there are significant advantages in new, more elaborate fixtures. These programs are especially important to meet increasingly strict requirements for 30-day and annual diagnostics on all parts of emergency lighting.

If looking at self-diagnosing programs, be sure the equipment has been throughly tested, and what rewards come from its use (e.g., lowered maintenance costs and extended warranties). Be sure to find out that the diagnostics match existing national and local codes. After all, diagnostics that fail to meet industry standards are not self-aware enough to evidence limitations…or safety risks.

Many new fixtures will also allow for ‘remote’ sensing, saving costs in physical handling: these remote functions may include battery voltage, lamp continuity, incoming power, and unit performance. These tests may be run more often than minimal test requirements, perhaps as frequently as every 10 seconds.

Self-diagnostics can be figuratively invaluable in making sure maintenance issues are identified, perhaps in advance of scheduled diagnostics. After all, nothing says that emergencies manage to make themselves available for scheduled maintenance checks.

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No Blank Checks

To the uninitiated, the range of code requirements for emergency lighting can be staggering. Three major code requirements are the Life Safety Code, the NFPA, and the National Electric Code. One of the major codes address the required need for a monthly check-up (the Life Safety Code).

Two of the codes also require annual inspection (NFPA 70 and the National Electric Code). But as any lawyer can tell you, if it isn’t in writing, “it doesn’t exist.” In other words, whether an inspection was conducted yesterday or months ago, a written record of the inspection must be kept.

Following, a summary of the data required in that record.

Required Monthly Checklist

Each light needs to be carefully, individually inspected for any physical damages. The test button must be pressed for thirty consecutive seconds. Alignment and adjustment of the beams are required. The AC charging system needs to be checked for functioning, and any electrical charges to top off are required.

Required Annual Checklist

A ninety (90) minute full-function test is required; the AC power supply to each unit must be disconnected and reconnected in the process. The battery and the lens must both be checked for function, including any corrosion or rust. The lens should be cleaned, as necessary, and the unit’s functions appropriately cleaned. The beam must be aligned as necessary. The voltage needs to be checked for its output and charging operability.

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Do You Recall?

One practical reason for regular inspections of emergency lighting fixtures has to do with the nature of emergencies. They are sporadic events, and when requisite emergency fixtures are ‘deployed,’ then the chance of finding failures can be catastrophic. The old axiom, ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ comes into play. Then, it may be too late to fix the problem quickly and efficiently.

In any event, the use of emergency fixtures may well be required more often than monthly or annually. One aspect of this extended (and active) awareness of testing has to do with product recalls. For example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission notes the enormous costs associated with product failures in the American economy every year. The costs associated with failures are absolutely staggering: exceeding $700 billion each year.

On occasion, intelligent inspections actually work to the great advantage of manufacturers and the public. One instance involves voluntary recalls. In the event a manufacturer receives notice of some defect, they may contact the Consumer Product Commission, and notify them of the possible defect (often based on the manufacturer or distributor’s own investigation). This is roughly what happened when a trim assembly light distributed by Prescolite was melting part of the fixture assembly. Part of the assembly might have fallen, causing injury to passers by.

In any event, consumers are always best served by such aggressive, and voluntary, recalls. Consumers, notably, played the first part in the recall process.

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Speaking Freely

One of the earliest, wise uses of exit signs was in the arena of indoor movie theaters. For that matter, a Supreme Court justice has even contributed to the lore that surrounds safe exiting from a movie theater. As hard as it is to believe, people once caught a fad of yelling “fire” in a theater. Justice Oliver W. Holmes noted the limit on free speech in 1919–of all things, using the urgency of a supposed theater fire. “It is not allowed to falsely yell fire in a crowned movie theater.”

Like most good advice, there has been a wide misquoting of Justice Holmes. The key word is falsely. One corporate theater chain actually runs an on-screen request to viewers: “please take a moment to familiarize yourself with…exits… .”

As progress in building codes have made theaters safer, an increased use of emergency lighting has also made exit signs more reliable. But the importance of the theater exit sign is also coming home: literally. Many of the more imaginative “home theater” buffs are also buying and installing those classic EXIT signs for home…presumably using the sign in the right place. Hopefully there won’t be a lawsuit over someone being misdirected into a closet. There’s no doubt Justice Holmes would be shaking his head about any such false direction. Besides, Holmes’s opinion was eventually overturned.

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That’s in a Name

When it comes to seeing the light, emergency lighting may be known by any number of names. On the other hand, errors in terminology also occur. One of the most common misuses of terms involved ‘egress’ lighting.

Many otherwise savvy installers treat egress as equivalent to ‘emergency’ lighting. In many other ways, the terminology of emergency lighting is not always accurate. The truth is that any lighting that is unreliable or undependable may create a hazard. Egress lights are used to provide safer exiting under any circumstances…whether an emergency has occurred or not. To this end, you might consider the example of decorative lighting to also aid in aesthetics.

Highlighting shrubs, for example, may also make unsafe shadows disappear. But the difference is more than semantic. Egress lighting should never be turned off by unapproved individuals. Egress lighting should be on whenever an affected area is occupied. Emergency lighting, however, is used in specified instances of (naturally enough) failures…classically, egress lighting is always on, and emergency lighting typically comes on when the egress lighting fails.

The apt use of the term egress properly addresses the range of lighting needed to make exits safer. More generally, knowing the relative roles of egress and emergency lighting also makes one fact crystal clear. The two lighting systems work together to cerate an emergency lighting system.

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Becoming a Fixture

Emergency light fixtures are increasingly subject to scrutiny for utility and appearance. This may well be because of the ubiquitous concern for safety all across America…especially after 9/11 showed a host of vulnerabilities. The world is becoming more and more awareness of safety hazards. Emergencies, from terrorism to energy brownouts and hurricanes, have all added to a sense of needing new and functional emergency light fixture designs to address logistical and aesthetic concerns.

One of the great breakthroughs has been the miniaturization of a transformer, built into the fixture base. This enhances the versatility of emergency lighting, by literally improving the base for emergency lighting’s specific electrical need. In general, fixture transformers act to reduce the voltage so that emergency lighting is relatively unobtrusive until needed. These transformers are also, as part of the emergency lighting system itself, required to meet the specifications of UL 924.

But not all emergency light fixture transformers are built equally. The increasing number and types of load generation, for example, may cause unexpected (meaning, undesirable) failures. While there are usually two types of power supplies (an engine generator or a battery source), transformers may not be optimally suited to one or the other.

The moral is: be certain the fixture is regarded as vital to emergency reliability as is the light.

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Safety First, Rest Later

With the sudden influx in people moving to different towns and industries picking up pace and building multi story complexes, the fear of power overload lingers in every ones mind. Since most computer companies need power round the clock, it is safer to go for a reliable mode of emergency lighting.

This will ensure that there is undisturbed power and that important data and transactions are carried out smoothly. The lighting fixed in the campus should be one that automatically turns on when the main power breaks down or is switched off. And the minimum working time should be at least six hours within which time the main power would have been fixed and back in action.

Also, the electrical engineers of the building should do periodical checks to make sure these lights are in working condition or else it does not serve the purpose. In an office space or shopping mall, the need for emergency lighting is very important to be able to avoid panic and chaos from breaking out. This also gives the reassurance to the people that they will not have to be stranded but can find their way around the building and reach a place of safety.

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Prominent Exit Signs Needed

Shopping malls are not the only places where people are found in large numbers, other places such as public service offices and hospitals also have this issue. So, it is very essential for prominent Exit signs to be placed in more than one location around the building and near the doors too.

Not only in the corridors and elevators, but also in wet areas where people might be trapped due to an accident or fire breaking out require these sign boards. The sign boards are enclosed in a sturdy fiber glass casing, which protects it against any kind of erosion or damage. Also since these signs have arrows it is easier for the person to follow them even during dark. With an extended of life of nearly 25years these lights are most recommended for places where lives are at stake.

Since they come with back up emergency batteries, the Exit signs are absolutely maintenance free and are suitable for wet locations as well. Water splashing on it, or spraying at it will have no effect and the light shall continue to glow in full brightness. Some of these come with direction indicators, which can be placed, based on its location.

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Effective Lights Brighten Days

We normally assume nothing is going to happen and go about our daily activities or shopping. It is only at times of emergency that we wonder about how to get out of where we are or where the stairway is, which we don’t seem to have noticed.

In order to avoid such chaos and to protect the lives of people, builders have begun installing Exit signs in multiple locations around the building. The main purpose of these signs is to guide the people from wherever they are to a place of safety, mostly outside the building. This is emergency lighting. The boards are found suspended from the ceiling or near the place of exit. Some of these signs are fitted in a neat plastic or metal box with the text written on both sides accompanied by an arrow or directions to go out.

Earlier the were made using incandescent bulbs, which would seem to be very dim even with high voltage powered bulbs. Today they have been replaced by Fluorescent and light emitting diode bulbs, which are very effective and have an extended lifespan as well. These kinds of boards don’t need any external wires or extra hardware to get them working.

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