How Safe Are New York Elevators?

The use of modern elevators started way back in 1857. So why do we keep hearing about elevator accidents.

Are Elevators Really Safe?

Are elevators really safe? Elevator expert and consultant Charles A. Buckman says they are: “Riding in an elevator is safer than riding in a New York cab, for example. Elevators are the safest mode of transportation in the country, without exception.”

Need numbers to settle down your pitter patter heart every time you ride one? How about 0.00000015%? This is the probability of any accident happening during one of the 18 billion trips made in one year!

How Safe Are They?

Occupational Health & Safety (2009) reported the presence of a redundancy of safety features on elevators, making the risk of elevator failure next to impossible. Some of them being:

Cables: Elevators can have anywhere from 4-8 times more cables to hold them in place than they require. This number depends on a “factor of safety.” For a building that has a 12 factor of safety, it means all the ropes must hold a mass that is 12 times that of a fully loaded car. You can take it to mean that each cable is strong enough to hold more than the car itself weighs!

Automatic Braking Systems: Present at both the top and bottom of the shaft. Working in case of an error in the safety chain, these brakes do not function in a way car brakes do. When the clamp stops the pulley present above the car, the elevator stops moving. It will stay there unless there is power that releases it, which means you are safe, in case of power failure.

Electromagnetic Brakes: These brakes are further protection, found at the bottom of the elevator. In case of an overspeeding elevator, the brake gets jammed into a channel found in the metal rods along which it travels. As friction builds, the car comes to a stop.

Shock Absorber System: A heavy-duty absorber is found at the bottom of the shaft.

Counterweights: On both ends of the cables, is a set of counterweights, which are slightly heavier than an empty car. If all the emergency systems fail to kick in and there is a single passenger inside, these weights make the elevator go up rather than descend. In case of a fully loaded car, the descent is slowed down to make it safer.

Pre-Run Checks: Automatically done by the elevator, if something is found to be amiss, power to the motor will be cut, and brakes applied. Examples are the door being open, overspeed or the emergency stop button has been pushed etc.

What You May Not Know About Modern Elevators

  • That button for closing the elevator door you keep pressing? Yeah, does not work! Ever since the 90s, only the key held by authorities can do that.
  • The only incident with a snapped cable happened in 1945.
  • Elevators are safer than escalators – about 20 times safer.
  • The purpose of inventing Elevator music was calming fearful passengers.
  • The amount of people that use the Otis Elevator Company in five days are the equivalent of the population of the world!

What would Miss Manners Say About Your Elevator Etiquette?

Just as common etiquette expects people to let others know if they’re running late for meetings and appointments, elevator etiquette expects those waiting for an elevator to let those who want to get out do so before they get in.

Additionally, taking safety into account, those riding an elevator should never use the stop button unless there is an emergency, and everybody in an elevator should always respect those sharing the ride. In fact, when it comes to elevator etiquette, mutual respect for others in an elevator is paramount.

It really isn’t rocket science, and it doesn’t require special training. But for people who don’t appreciate the importance of good old-fashioned manners, it can prove to be a little tough.

Who Should Get Into the Elevator First?

When people get in line, it’s a given that the first in line gets to go first. The problem with elevators is that people generally don’t get in line. Usually those waiting for the elevator just hang around the door. But you’ve got to be oblivious not to notice people who were there before you. So, generally, people should allow those who got there first to get in first. However, practice common-sense manners by allowing the elderly and disabled and others who may need assistance to get in first. Isn’t that’s what you would (or should) do if you got on a bus and there were only a couple of seats left? In other words, let anyone who needs it more than you have it first.

If the elevator is already crammed, give it a miss, even if someone inside tells you to squeeze in.

Conversation in an Elevator

Elevators are, by nature, confined spaces, and when there are lots of people sharing a confined space, conversation is a no-no. You are not expected to make conversation with those you are traveling with, and it is considered rude if people you don’t know try to chat. You should never have phone conversations in a crowded elevator, and if you really need to talk to the person you know who is standing next to you, elevator etiquette demands that you both speak quietly.

Getting out of the Elevator

Conventional good manners dictate that women should exit first, but that isn’t always possible, particularly when the elevator is very full. If it is crammed, it’s advisable to tell those with you just before the elevator reaches your floor. That way they can move aside. Good etiquette requires you to excuse yourself if you have to pass close to people to exit, and to say “thank you” when they move to one side. Pushing is not an option.

People who are at the front of the elevator should, if necessary, exit to allow others off, and then re-board.

Anybody with good manners is sure to have good elevator etiquette. It’s that simple.

Elevator “Music” Ain’t What It Used to Be

At roughly the same time that skyscrapers were springing up all over New York, an army general was developing an idea to transmit music over wires. Radio was in its infancy, so the idea had some merit. By the time the kinks in the wire were worked out, so to speak, radio had begun to dominate. General Squier didn’t lament his fate, however. He changed gears and sold the idea to anyone who wanted piped in music. Originally, it was tinny and hollow sounding. In the 21st century, however, it’s changed to the point that it sounds like any commercially available CD. The best part is: Muzak comes with all applicable licensing already settled. Businesses don’t need to pay twice.

Let’s Go to the Movies: Two Great Elevator Scenes

When Bud Fox got on the elevator with his father in “Wall Street,” the resulting scene ramps up the tension until Carl Fox shouts that he never judged a man’s success by the size of his wallet. Bud is unimpressed and calls his father gutless, whereupon Carl says he must have been a lousy father.

At the other end of the spectrum, former fibbing lawyer Fletcher Reede had an amusing chat in an elevator with a well-endowed hot babe in “Liar Liar.” After several extremely truthful comments about her accouterments, he gets his face slapped by the appalled young lady.

Why Do Moviemakers Love Elevators?

Building on the anxiety that’s inherent with riding in an elevator, Hollywood has given us some unforgettable moments that take place going up and down. Different moviemakers use the elevator differently, as with most things in Hollywood. Three of these scenes are dramatic, and two are comedic.

Let’s count backward:

5. “The Untouchables”: While transporting a bookkeeper who is to be a witness against Al Capone, Agent Oscar Wallace, as played by Charles Martin Smith, must ride an elevator in the police station. A Capone torpedo named Nitti gets on, too, dressed as a cop. He pulls his gun and coldly executes the bookkeeper and Agent Wallace. Then, he uses their blood to write the word “touchable” on the wall of the elevator.

4. “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”: At the end of the film, Charlie and Joe steal two Fizzy Lifting Drinks, which was against Willie Wonka’s rules. Charlie, therefore, is disqualified from the contest of winning all the chocolate. Charlie is disconsolate, and gives Gobstopper to Slugworth. Lo and behold, it was a test. Charlie passed! Willie Wonka, as played spectacularly by Gene Wilder, take Charlie and Joe on the ride of their lives on the Great Glass Wonkavator, which can go any direction the riders want. He then wills the factory to Charlie for passing the test and retires.

3. “The Shining”: Although this scene doesn’t technically take place in an elevator, the the sight of a giant mechanical arm forcing the elevator doors to go in the wrong direction while hidden in tons of blood is enough to curdle fresh milk.

2. “The Silence of the Lambs”: Hannibal Lecter has killed almost all of the guards who were watching him in his makeshift cell and is roaming free in the building. One of the guards is still barely alive even though he’s been horribly disfigured by Lecter’s teeth. The police surround the man and take him down the elevator to a waiting ambulance as other officers frantically search for Lecter. They discover what they think is Lecter lying on top of the elevator. Suddenly, the grievously injured guard sits up inside the ambulance and lays waste to the personnel inside. It’s Lecter himself, and he’s wearing the bitten-off face of the guard as a disguise.

1. “The Blues Brothers”: When the police corner them in the Cook County office building, where they went to pay off the tax bill for the orphanage, the Blues Brothers blithely enter the elevator to the soothing strains of “The Girl from Ipanema.” When they get to their floor, one of them calmly produces a lighter and an aerosol can from his pocket to form a makeshift flamethrower to fry the elevator circuits in an effort to buy time.

The Ups and Downs of Elevator Oddness

How many times have we walked into an elevator in the middle of an intense conversation just to shut up as soon as we pass the sliding-door threshold? Why do we separate from each other and then strike up the conversation again as soon as we exit the elevator? We gaze at our phones. We watch the numbers go tick-tick-tick. We even just stare at the door. Why do we do these things?

Dr. Lee Gray of the University of North Carolina has an answer: “The lift becomes this interesting social space where etiquette is sort of odd,” says Gray.

“You don’t have enough space,” adds Babette Renneberg, a psychologist in Berlin, We’re awkward, in other words, because crowded elevators violate the Western concept of personal space. Whereas Arabs, for example, will get on an elevator and stand close together while talking, even if they’re the only two people on the elevator, we’re almost obsessed with separating as much as possible.

There are all kinds of theories about how people behave in an elevator. Some contend that five people in an elevator will unconsciously adopt the shape of pips on a die. Others say that the reason we’re so subdued and awkward is that we don’t want to be seen as threatening or harassing in any way. Careers might be forever changed, or even lost, if a stray hand accidentally brushes against someone in an inadvertently inappropriate manner.

Gray also asserts that there is another reason we’re uneasy: lack of control. Sure, we push the buttons to choose our floor but, when we’re on the way, we are completely at the mercy of the equipment. We know there are safeguards. We know the little sign says the elevator can hold much more weight than is currently on it. We also know, however, that it’s a long, long way down, and that frightens us. Then, there’s the little problem of what to do if the elevator gets stuck between floors, especially if it’s after hours and most everyone else has gone home.

One New Yorker named Nick White recently spent nearly two days trapped inside an elevator. He even had to pry open the door and use the yawning shaft as a bathroom. Even today, knowing that statistics show his was an unusual case, it’s in the back of his mind every time he gets in an elevator. In fact, his ordeal was so damaging to him that he hasn’t returned to work since. He agrees with Gray that elevators are creepy and similar to a tomb in construction.

The fear and awkwardness apply even more in outside glass elevators. People who are afraid of heights now have a second anxiety to contend with. Also, knowing that modern elevators approach speeds of 40 mph makes us fearful. In a car, we have seat belts to protect us; in an elevator, on the side of a building or inside it, we have no such safeguards.

Start Elevator Keeps Up With the Times

When Start Elevator came into being 22 years ago as a family-owned and -operated business, its ownership was committed to customer satisfaction, both by providing fine workmanship and using only high-quality products. Ever since, the company has continued to live by these basic precepts.

Part of the company’s dedication to quality includes using only the most up-to-date components and products in an effort to modernize every elevator with which they work.

From Ancient Times to Modern Day

Elevators have progressed mightily from the primitive, animal-driven platforms of ancient Greece. In the 11th century, for example, Spanish Moors used them as military tools. In the 21st century, elevators are sophisticated, high-speed transporters used by millions of people every day.

When he wasn’t running naked through the streets of Athens shouting, “I have found it!,” Archimedes spent his time thinking great, scientific thoughts. In 236 B.C., as reported by the Roman architect Vitruvius, Archimedes built an elevator that he could use to bring items inside his house in Syracuse. Almost 800 years after that, Egyptians built similar devices for the temple now known as St. Catherine’s Monastery.

Other than Louis XVI using a human-powered elevator in the Palace of Versailles, things didn’t change for roughly another 1,000 years. Even in 1823, when two British architects, named Burton and Homer, constructed what they called an “ascending room” as a tourist attraction, elevators were largely curiosities or tools and playthings for the most important or wealthy people.

The first truly modern advance in elevator construction occurred in 1835, with the development of the steam-powered model in England. In 1852, Elisha Otis completed his work on the invention that would change elevator technology forever. Popular lore, which includes song lyrics, tells us that “Otis made the elevator go up,” but this is a misconception. In reality, Otis’s invention kept elevators from going down. He invented a braking system that would keep an elevator’s contents, including passengers, safe. Before this invention, elevators were never very tall because no one wanted to fall, either off or in them. With Otis’s invention, modern skyscrapers became practical and, by 1857, Otis’s eponymous company was building and producing steam-powered elevators for the ever-taller buildings springing up around the United States.

In the 1880s, electric elevators made their debut, having been developed by a German inventor named Werner von Siemens. American inventor Alexander Miles patented the American version of Siemens’s invention in 1887. Thomas Edison, who was a champion of direct current, helped in the development of American electric elevator motors, which, at that time, were all DC because it was much easier to control than alternating current. It’s a shame that Otis himself died from diphtheria in 1861; he could have seen all the innovations and developments that have taken place over the last 153 years.

In the beginning, for example, elevators needed operators to stop the cars at the right floors. In 1915, the Otis company invented a method for automatically stopping. Elevator speeds had increased to the point that human reflexes weren’t able to cope safely. Since then, geared traction and hydraulic elevators have further improved the technology, and, in smaller buildings of 20 or fewer stories, so have machine-roomless models, which house the works that drive the elevator in the shaft itself instead of on the roof. In the world of the 21st century, observation elevators, sky lobbies, automated microprocessor controls and even remote monitoring and control systems have all contributed to the development of the elevator. At the pinnacle of modern elevator technology, cars can zoom at speeds approaching 40 mph. They include pressure control systems and other gadgets, such as anti-whistling and anti-vibration technology. The pressure controls alleviate ear popping and other such conditions that occur more than 1,000 feet in the air.

Start Elevator makes it its business to be fully acquainted with all such technologies and strives to incorporate as many as possible on all of its modernization projects. Such commitment to knowledge and training also enables the company to do all of its repairs effectively. The company might be family-run, but it always endeavors to provide big-company service to its discerning clientele. The company’s long-term plans include expanding the customer base, striving to be industry-leading by training all of its personnel, including all management, to be hands-on, both in dealing with customers and in performing the company’s work.