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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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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 in Exit Signs
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