5 Tips for Selecting Emergency Lights

New emergency lighting solutions maintain constant lighting output for longer periods of time during campus crises.
Published: October 29, 2013

Millions of people across the United States walk into educational campuses and healthcare facilities on a daily basis. Some are familiar with the buildings, while others are not, making it critically important that the path of egress is well-lit in case of an emergency.

Emergency lighting standards seek to provide guidelines for visual conditions that make safe and timely evacuation possible while simultaneously curtailing panic. This is particularly true in areas where the public and employees have access, such as schools and hospitals.

With these standards in place, however, there are still thousands of Americans who die every year, and many more suffer personal injuries in building emergencies ranging from fires and explosions to blackouts and collapses caused by earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes.

When a disaster strikes healthcare and school facilities, nerves can cause anxiety and uncertainty. Emergency lighting illuminates a path to safety, assisting in building evacuation and helping to bring order to chaos.

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The simple priority of emergency lighting is to deliver constant light for as long as it is needed to evacuate the building and to help first responders safely enter and navigate the building.

Victims Survive When They Can See

Take a look at one of the most tragic events in recent U.S. history — the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center twin towers. The 9-11 Commission discovered emergency lighting systems failed during the attacks, which left victims struggling to escape in stairwells filled with smoke and darkness.

Fires alone in the United States caused 3,005 civilian deaths, 17,500 civilian injuries and $11.7 billion in property damage in 2011. According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), first responders from fire departments in America responded to an approximate average of more than 6,000 structure fires in or on healthcare properties per year between 2006 and 2010. Additionally, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, approximately 3,800 university housing fires occur every year in America.

The number of fires becomes a greater concern for school and medical campuses when considering the number of visitors who are unfamiliar with the buildings. In hospitals, the average inpatient admission is for less than five days. This timeframe gives patients and their visitors little opportunity to become familiar with the best exit route during an emergency. College campuses are similar in their changing landscape because of the large population of visitors, students, faculty and staff. Often, occupants may visit four or five buildings on a daily basis and may not be familiar with every building they enter. 

Accidents are not solely limited to building occupants in healthcare facilities and school buildings. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), nearly 70,000 firefighters suffered injuries on the job in 2011. And while emergency lighting is only one factor, it could dramatically impact the ability of first responders to safely and quickly navigate unfamiliar surroundings to reach victims — placing themselves and civilians at risk.

Know the Codes and Save Lives

By design, most school and healthcare building occupants — students, teachers, residents, doctors, nurses, staff members, patients, visitors — are rarely, if ever aware of the emergency precautions taken on their behalf, let alone the codes and regulations behind them. Yet the standards exist to ensure their safety, including recommendations for specific luminaires such as exit signs and other sources of guidance, as well as the installation, operation and testing of these products. In addition, the standards address design principles that account for optimal placement, energy use and possibility of electrical supply failure during emergencies.

Education and healthcare facility building owners and managers, architects, engineers, designers, contractors and maintenance personnel are fully aware of their obligation to specify luminaires, exit signs and related safety devices that meet or exceed emergency lighting standards.  Specifically, a mixture of local and national codes, including the National Electrical Code (NEC), OSHA Code of Federal Regulation, NFPA 101 and NFPA 70, have been developed and put into practice to help protect the general public in times of disaster.

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