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When the Lights Go Out, Go With the Glow

If the power goes out in your hotel or high-rise commercial property, can your guests and employees safely find their way out in the dark? Do you have an updated, tested evacuation plan ready to go?

Based on recommendations of the World Trade Center (WTC) Commission, New York City enacted Local Law 26 (LL26) requiring commercial properties over 75 feet tall to have emergency evacuation stairwells equipped with photoluminescent markings and signage. While New York City is the first city to require photoluminescent markings in stairwells, the code serves as a guideline to help people safely and quickly exit buildings in any lights-out emergency. For example, many hotels across the country are implementing "glow-in-the-dark" exit path markings to improve safety for guests and staff.

 

They're also realizing energy savings or "green" benefits that photoluminescent products provide.

Improving safety requires understanding emergency conditions. In addition to the challenges presented by darkness and smoke, the pressure of a crisis situation makes it harder for people to think clearly. These factors make clear, bright, visually instructive exit path markings even more valuable to building occupants.

Hotel facility managers and owners should understand this and make every reasonable effort to ensure that hotel guests and staff can navigate passageways and stairs as rapidly as possible.

Glowing Benefits

The WTC Commission and others have embraced photoluminescent technology for three main reasons. First, it's a failsafe technology that works without electricity – no batteries to replace, no connections to test, no light bulbs to burn out or break. Photoluminescent products automatically recharge once the lights are turned on and have a much longer and brighter glow than old materials, helping to speed evacuation during a lights-out emergency.

Secondly, photoluminescent materials are cost-effective, easy to install, and easy to maintain because they require no wiring or battery back-up. Photoluminescent tapes and signs can be designed to withstand wear and tear, making them a reliable solution that’s always ready in an emergency.

Finally, photoluminescent markings are a proven solution. According to an investigation* into the World Trade Center evacuation process, existing photoluminescent markings in the stairwells were among the most commonly reported forms of aid in evacuating the buildings, from which approximately 14,000 occupants escaped. Photoluminescent exit signs are another welcome addition to current exit marking technology. They require no electricity and are always "on," providing a cost-effective, "green" solution that improves safety and lowers energy use.

Where to Install

Photoluminescent signs are an important part of a complete exit marking system. In a lights-out emergency, people must be able to easily locate the exit stairwells. Placing directional exit signs along the route to the stairwell at a low level (18" from the floor to the top of the signs) adds an extra degree of safety by ensuring clear visibility to the stairwell even if smoke blocks the view of high level exit signs. Markings installed near floor level are visible to building occupants who might be crawling along stairwells to avoid smoke.

Once in the stairwell, photoluminescent signs continue to play a critical role in facilitating safe and fast exits. In accordance with the National Fire Protection Agency codes (NFPA 170), hotels are required to install stairwell identification and re-entry signs to help all building occupants evacuate safely and to provide fire department personnel with critical life-saving information.

Although not mandated, some buildings are replacing their "nonglow" signs with photoluminescent signs to ensure clear visibility and readability in a lights-out situation. Another option is to install customized photoluminescent labels above door handles indicating the floor you are on and the nearest re-entry points.

In addition, fire protection and emergency equipment, final exits, intermediate exits, and dead-ends (such as utility and electrical closets) can be identified with photoluminescent signage. Custom photoluminescent signs are available in many configurations.

Making the Bright Choices

Photoluminescent products are available in both self-adhesive and aluminum-backed materials to accommodate various surfaces. Self-sticking adhesive tapes are lightweight, conformable and easy to install. They require a clean, smooth, dry, nonporous surface for proper adhesion. Aluminum-backed rigid products are used with a special adhesive that is applied on-site and performs better on rough or porous surfaces. Most hotels require both types of materials for different surface textures and traffic patterns in the building.

Split image shows what photoluminescent markings look like under normal lighting (right side) and when the lights go out (left side).

When you choose a photoluminescent exit marking system, consider current building codes and other safety s t a n d a r d s . For example, photoluminescent exit signs should meet the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 924 standard for emergency lighting and power equipment. Signs that meet the UL 924 standard can be used as code-compliant alternatives to electric exit signs. Exit signs should also be approved under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program, as well as additional safety codes.

A properly installed photoluminescent evacuation system will provide a clear, unbroken exit route during any lights-out emergency, helping guests and staff quickly and safely exit your hotel. Choosing a durable, industrial-grade photoluminescent marking solution will help ensure that your evacuation system is cost-effective, easy to maintain and ready to use for years to come.

* Conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology Information for this article is courtesy of Brady Corporation.

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