Emergency Lighting: A Uniform System Cannot Be Considered Suitable for All Needs

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Yilmaz Ozcan, Eaton Electric Turkey Country Manager


Emergency lighting is one of the most complex issues that building owners and property managers have to deal with. There are many factors to consider in relation to technical specification, layout, maintenance and regulation. An effective emergency lighting solution plays a critical role in crises, but many in the industry still ignore basic principles. A wrong decision taken at any point in the design process can mean risking the lives of residents in emergency situations.

Given the unique requirements of each building and the importance of getting emergency lighting right, here are the factors that building owners and property managers should consider when designing emergency lighting.

Building User Profile

There are decisions to be made about the people in the building. Some buildings, such as student dormitories, have a similar user base, while in other buildings the user profile is more variable. Age, health, lifestyle and recognition of the building are key design considerations that play a key role in determining the best emergency lighting solution.

Factors such as the placement of lighting systems or high lighting are important in different demographic structures. For example, in the case of areas that may be dangerous, such as stairs, older individuals with not strong enough eyesight may also be considered and a higher and more homogeneous lighting may be needed. Considering the buildings where individuals with physical and cognitive impairments or students (who would normally meet frequently) stay, high fixtures should be used to support more complex evacuation processes.

In the case of hospitals, theaters or other public buildings that people do not visit regularly, panic may occur in an emergency or people who want to get out in a hurry may be harmed.The fact that individuals do not know the building well can lead to prolonged evacuation period. In this case, not only when a crisis erupts; continuous (always on) emergency lighting may also be required to ensure that escape routes and exits are always clearly illuminated. Emergency lighting is critical to ensuring that evacuations are carried out safely without power outages, for example, evacuations due to terrorist threats.  

Type and Purpose of Use of the Building

In the design of the emergency lighting system, it should be considered how low visibility can affect the evacuation of the building. There are three levels of risk that define how easily and safely a task – equipment in risky and hazardous areas that cannot be immediately stopped when power goes out – affects the optimal emergency lighting approach:

  • Low-risk tasks: These tasks are generally performed in offices, retail and service sector, and can be safely stopped if lighting is reduced to very low levels (usually 300-500 to 0.5Lux, depending on the task). In these tasks, escape path lighting and open area (anti-panic) lighting can be used.
  • High-risk tasks: Activities in warehouses, cafes and swimming pools can always be safely stopped through the control panel. The control panel must be illuminated to safely stop the tasks and evacuate the building.
  • High-risk (+) environments: Theaters and airport control towers where missions cannot be stopped immediately or take a long time to stop are examples. In these environments, everything must be fully illuminated.

Scale and Structure of the Building

The scale and structure (complexity) of the building can complicate the evacuation process. In high-rise buildings, longer periods may be required to provide enough time for a safe evacuation, although these buildings do not have dangerous tasks inherently dangerous. In most applications, factors such as completely closed stairs or fatigue of people leaving the building can be a reason to consider higher lighting levels.

There may not be enough escape routes in old buildings, or the roads (according to new building regulations) can be very narrow. It is also possible that combustible building materials were used (as in the Grenfell disaster in London). To reduce these risks, higher lighting levels may be needed for longer to reduce panic and ensure the safe exit of everyone in the building. Adaptive evacuation signs and techniques can be used to direct people in the building to safe exits, as well as to control the flow of people using the escape route.

Lifecycle Costs

The lifecycle total cost of ownership (TCO) can make a real difference to any building owner or operator who installs an emergency lighting system. Like all other commercial investments, there is a balance between how much the system will initially cost in design and capital (CAPEX) and the operating costs (OPEX) available over its lifetime. However, safety should always be at the forefront of any emergency lighting design.

Although costs vary, for example, an independent emergency lighting system that is manually tested will significantly reduce initial expenditure; however, it will still cost more than twice as much as a centrally monitored (automated test) central battery system or a self-battery system for ten years. Independent systems with both central battery system and automated testing solutions require a higher CAPEX expenditure; however, at that time a largely similar total cost of ownership occurs.

Maintenance and Services

Although it is extremely important to test an emergency lighting system; these tests do not cover an adequate maintenance program to ensure that buildings can be safely evacuated and meet regulatory standards. Robust processes must be in place to quickly repair or replace defective equipment and ensure the required performance of new products or components needed and to meet all regulations.

Some building owners can choose to take on testing and maintenance responsibilities and carry out a simple repair or replacement themselves.However, many of them will choose to have an annual service contract with suppliers of emergency lighting systems, especially when it comes to larger systems.This choice enables trained engineers to thoroughly manage testing and maintenance processes and organize all repairs to high compliance standards using OEM components.

Plant managers should consider all these factors and ensure their effectiveness in order to classify emergency lighting systems in accordance with the building in which they manage, as well as the residents of the building at any time.

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