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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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A Sound Combo

The development of emergency light fixtures is often part of new inventions, addressing aesthetics as often as utility. This is because the appearance of a fixture often relates to its selection as well as where the fixture will be placed.

Traditionally, the most reliable light fixtures have tended to address power supply problems through the introduction of a separate battery power unit. This has made many fixtures bulky and unattractive. These efficient but unwieldy fixtures are often called “combos,” as they combine lights with a sign and power supply. Combo construction has led, often, to the placement of fixtures in less than ideal locations. A recent invention speaks directly to this limitation: according to its patent claims, the result is a lighter and more attractive combo.

One key aspect to the invention is to make the illumination self-contained. By having an internal lighting system, the lines of the new fixture become more pleasing to the eye, and also less cumbersome in spacing or placement. Ideally, the parts of the combo are all co-extensively built to match…giving a sleeker, linear look. One by-product of this sleekness is to make placement in a variety of places more effective…and attractive.

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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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