By Karen Penafiel
The reopening of America’s states and cities is in progress. And as stay at home orders are lifted, more of us are heading back into the office. This means millions of Americans — especially city dwellers — will once again rely on elevators to move about their daily lives. A once usual and perhaps even mundane part of the commute, the elevator has become a subject of concern and intrigue in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which is forcing all of us to look our day-to-day activities in very different ways.
First, let me be clear: there is no greater risk for the spread of the coronavirus in an elevator than in any other enclosed public space. With proper precautions, such as wearing masks, washing hands after touching any surfaces, and practicing physical distancing, elevators can and should be used with confidence.
Nevertheless, we must recognize the specific circumstances of elevator riding that make this transition back to the “new normal” unique: tighter space, close proximity to others, multiple hand-contact surfaces. Since the initial outbreak of the coronavirus, the elevator industry has been hard at work maintaining the equipment to keep buildings running smoothly. But, that’s not all. Behind the scenes, the industry has been developing innovations and protocols that will help us emerge to a new way of life, arming facility management teams and riders with specific solutions to help us all adjust to our new environments. In fact, many technologies already on the market for the vertical transportation industry will help Americans feel safer as they transition back to work and their typical routines.
Elevators — while a necessary daily ride for many — are not spaces people spend much time in. But it’s important for building professionals to understand how the elevator is managed and designed so they — and their tenants — can feel safe in these high-traffic machines. For example, the ventilation systems in elevators are designed to provide plenty of fresh air for passengers, even when fully occupied. And just as in any public space, compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance to wear cloth face coverings in public spaces where physical distancing is challenging is recommended in elevators.
Additionally, over the past several decades, the elevator industry has been focused on innovating more efficient — and in many cases, touchless — ways for passengers to get where they need to go. The recent pandemic has only highlighted the need for and importance of these types of solutions, prompting even more investment in innovation. Remote technologies have been on the market for many years, allowing for touchless elevator call buttons and web applications for users. Destination dispatching technology, which uses powerful data algorithms to group passengers together for more efficient elevator operations, can seamlessly deliver passengers to their pre-determined floors by recognizing their identities through touchless security card access.
Traditional vertical transportation equipment includes frequently touched surfaces and as such, the elevator industry has recognized that building professionals need new options for safely transporting the occupants of their buildings. Innovative solutions have been developed including UVC light sanitization, kick-to-call buttons, voice-activated control buttons, and more that each present a powerful alternative to help facility management and riders feel safer in elevator spaces. As we all navigate life differently in the wake of COVID-19, building owners may want to consider modernization projects to implement these technologies where possible.
Technology can make your elevator ride as safe and touch-free as possible, but there are still human behaviors that will impact how safe we all are in this new world. This includes continuing to enforce physical distancing in elevator cabs as well as the routine cleaning of equipment. Physical distancing will likely be keeping us apart for some time, so it is important that facility professionals understand these recommendations. A standard elevator car, for example, will allow for two — maybe three — passengers to maintain appropriate physical distancing, which may mean slow-moving lines in the lobby on your way to the office. In response, NEII [National Elevator Industry, Inc.] recommends several steps such as placing decals on the cab floor to indicate where riders should stand and staggered arrival and departures times in heavy traffic buildings to prevent crowding.
While we all do the hard work of figuring out how to move through our daily lives in different ways, the elevator industry will continue innovating technologies to make it easier to get there vertically.
Editor’s Note: Available for download from NEII is a PDF on “Elevator & Escalator Rider Tips Amid The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic”. Also available for download is a sheet on “Elevator & Escalator Tips For Facility Managers Amid The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic”.
Bringing over 30 years of experience in association management along with legislative, regulatory and codes advocacy, Penafiel, CAE, has been the Executive Director of NEII (National Elevator Industry, Inc.) since July 2016. In this position, she has the authority and responsibility for managing the association and coordinating ongoing operations and directives established by the organization. From 1989 until she joined NEII in 2016, Penafiel worked with the Building Owners Managers Association (BOMA) International, most recently as the vice president of advocacy, codes and standards. Together with her team, Penafiel sets industry goals that push building initiatives forward.
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