Web Exclusive: Elevator Preparation in the Event of a Hurricane
by Dan Hunter
While writing this, the National Weather Service was forecasting Hurricane Isaac to travel up the west coast of Florida during the week of August 23 and impact the northern Gulf Coast. During hurricane season (June 1- November 30), we all pay close attention to the tropics. For many of us, hurricanes are just part of living in the South, and preparedness is a way of life. However, many building representatives are unfamiliar with how to prepare their elevators prior to the arrival of a storm. Most elevator machine rooms in buildings of seven landings or fewer are on the ground floor, and many along the coast are vulnerable to storm surge. There is little that can be done to prevent water intrusion into the machine room. However, following these steps can help lower your chances of having to replace components in the elevator car itself.
It is best to let the occupants know when the elevator will be out of service just prior to landfall or evacuation. Run the elevator to the uppermost landing, and, after it reaches this landing and the doors cycle shut, turn off the main disconnect in the machine room. There is likely a small disconnect beside the larger one; turn this off too. This will keep the elevator car above any storm surge and will protect its components and circuitry from electrical power surges as well. This also puts most hydraulic oil (if applicable) in the piping and cylinder, protected from water. Place sandbags around the machine-room door, about 4 ft. high. It is a good practice to have a sump pump on hand to pump out the pit after the storm passes.
After a major storm, it is a safe practice to have your elevator contractor look over the elevator before turning the power back on. If there was a storm surge, the pit will likely be full of water that must be pumped out before the elevator can be turned back on. Additionally, the wiring, switches and controllers will need to be allowed time to properly dry out before they can be powered up and checked for proper operation. Do not be surprised if the corrosion of saltwater requires you to replace the controller; this is a common experience and may be covered by insurance. Your elevator contractor will also pump out the hydraulic oil tank and replace the contaminated oil with new oil to remove the corrosive saltwater.
In summary, there is a great deal of work involved in protecting your elevator before and after a storm. During hurricane season and other similar weather conditions, be sure to work with your elevator contractor. A wise company will adjust staffing to an affected area to take care of its customers in a timely manner. If you are unsure how to prepare your elevator in advance of a storm, call your elevator contractor and ask him or her to prepare it for you or guide you through the process. If possible, try not to wait until the last minute, because the demands on elevator companies may be overwhelming during that time.
In light of the recent Hurricane Isaac, Schindler provided industry with a set of guidelines to help the industry prepare elevators and equipment for such weather conditions. The following is a brief overview of Schindler’s recommendations:
Design a diagram showing the location of all elevators, car numbers, the elevator–car phone number and the elevator company’s emergency phone number and place it in your building’s designated security area.
Before the storm hits, close all vents and openings at the top of the hoistway to prevent water from entering the elevator shaft. Next, barricade the machine room and be sure there are no occupants left in the building. After the cars are parked appropriately, shut the elevator down with the keyed switch and close the doors to prevent unauthorized personnel from using the equipment. In addition, place the mainline disconnect in the “off” position to remove power from the elevator.
During the storm and once it has passed, refrain from using the elevator and do not restore its power until the control panels and machine room have been checked for water damage. If water is found, do not resume operation until the elevator service provider has conducted an inspection.
Because weather conditions can be unpredictable, Schindler recommends building and facility managers become familiar with these precautions ahead of time in order to effectively complete the process if needed.
Dan Hunter is the Sales manager of Service and Renovation at Mowrey Elevator Co.