Elevators: A Building's Secondary Line of Defense

Although a security system should begin at the entrance to the building, elevators must also be considered in a complete building security scheme. In addition to being equipped to provide safe and reliable elevator operation, elevators also should be integrated with five other building security and emergency systems.

1. Monitoring System

Monitoring systems are generally used to provide safety to the occupants of an elevator cab. These systems may be as simple as a mirror mounted inside the cab that lets passengers see the interior before entering or as complex as a two-way intercom system and video surveillance along with microphones in each car that connect to building security. Most systems today use closed-circuit television for visual, as well as, audio surveillance.

2. Access Control Systems

Access control systems allow elevator operation from the main floor of a building to upper floors to be controlled automatically by restricting passengers, floors, and times. During designated hours, only authorized people can operate such elevators to reach designated floors.


A common access control system uses magnetically coded cards. Each authorized person receives a card that must be inserted into a reader in the elevator control panel for service to specified floors during periods of restricted access. The card is coded for access only to specified floor(s). 

3. Communications Systems

A variety of systems can provide quick communications to passengers who find themselves in a nonworking elevator. Some of these systems provide telephones in the car that directly link the elevator to the elevator maintenance company. Other systems operate automatically through a direct modem link to the maintenance company.

4. Fire Emergency Systems

Fires seldom start in well-maintained modern elevators. Unfortunately, elevators are vulnerable to fire originating elsewhere in a building. Elevator codes require elevator hoistways and doors to resist fire and heat long enough for people to evacuate the building. 

5. Emergency Power Systems

As a safeguard for elevator passengers during an electric power failure, many buildings have emergency power systems that supply electricity to lower the elevators to the designated (exit) floor. However, other systems may only provide energy to operate lights, fans, and intercoms. 

All of these systems are set in place to help protect building occupants in emergency situations.

This article is adapted from BOMI International’s Law and Risk Management, part of the RPA® designation program. More information is available by calling 1.800.235.2664. Visit BOMI International’s website, www.bomi.org.

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