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    Rights: The University of Waikato
    Published 3 November 2009 Referencing Hub media

    In this video clip, Dr Mike Spearpoint from the University of Canterbury talks about research that considers the use of lifts for fire evacuation as buildings get taller and the population gets older.

    Points of interest

    • Why is the concept of using lifts for fire evacuation unusual?
    • Why are scientists now thinking lifts might be a good idea?
    • What are some of the issues the scientists need to look at?


    Some of the key research that we have been involved in, in terms of human behaviour, has been recently looking at the question of people using lifts as a means of evacuation in fire. Emma Hayes is a student doing her master’s with us, but she also works for a large multinational consulting company. Working for that company, she realised that the issue of lifts and fire was becoming a topic of interest, and the company she works for might be looking in the future to design buildings where lifts could be used as a means of evacuation, so they were interested in the results that Emma was going to obtain from her research.

    Now, I know normally we would be saying you don't use a lift in fire, but when we start looking at some of the very tall buildings that are being designed around the world – these are what we call super high-rise buildings – and we also look at the ageing population of people and the people's ability in terms of their fitness, their capability of using stairs, we have to actually now start thinking whether the notion of not using a lift in fire is reasonable.

    So we’ve been asking the questions, such as: If a lift was available and it was designed for fire safety, what proportion of people might want to use that lift? Would the number of people that want to use the lift differ depending on what floor they are on? What reasons might people want to decide to use a lift or be worried about using a lift and instead would want to look at using the stairs?

    And the reason we need to know this, in terms of, as a designer, if I am designing a building and I'm thinking I'm going to use lifts as a means of evacuation, I need to know how many people might want to use the lifts so that I can then specify the appropriate number of lifts. I don't want to have too many because that’s going to be a cost involved, but if I don't have enough, then am I going to compromise people's ability to evacuate in a fire?

    The results that Emma came up with, kind of not surprisingly, the higher the building and the further you are up the building, more likely people are to desire to use the lift. There’s always going to be a proportion of people, no matter how tall the building is, they are uncomfortable using the lifts in fire, and they will walk down the stairs regardless. On the other hand, there’s always going to be a proportion of people who are unable to use the stairs, either because of permanent or temporary disability, so in the end, we end up with a kind of distribution that says more people will use the lift the higher up the building.

    The idea of this research was not to say we are going to replace stairways with lifts but allow alternative options for people.

    Emma Heves
    Creative commons 2.5, 3.0