Trapped – What to do if you’re in charge when the elevator breaks.

Elevator is stuck and a woman is obviously upset.
Being a calming influence is important when people are stuck in the elevator.

You are waiting for the elevator’s familiar ding and the doors to open when you hear an unexpected clunk. On the other side of the stainless steel doors you hear muffled voices, “I think we’ve stopped.” “What do we do?” and you’re the guy in charge of the building that day.

The next thing you hear is a loud alarm bell and you’re sure you’re going to be on the other end of the line coming from inside the elevator car. Instead of panicking or worrying, you can help.  When you are in charge and someone gets stuck, there are some simple yet important steps to take to make sure the passengers stay safe and you get the elevator moving as quickly as possible.

  1. Call immediately, The longer you wait the more panic, anger and frustration sets in.
  2. Find out how many people are in the car, how they are doing and if there are any emergencies. Remember they are stuck in your building and it should be assumed it was not their fault, so be pleasant as possible and engaged. Find out the floor and what elevator if you don’t already know and if there are any medical emergencies call 911. Be polite and thank the trapped people for their patience.
  3. Tell the passengers inside what you are going to do and a general time line. Don’t sugar coat this step. It would be tempting to say the elevator service tech will be there in a couple minutes and they will be out in no time, but this will only lead to frustration when they are still stuck because the technician is in traffic.
  4. Give them some safety tips. Tell them not to try to get out of the elevator until told to do so. Reassure them that they are safe, that there is plenty of oxygen as elevators are not air tight and are designed not to fall. Tell them not to try to open the hatch on top of the car as it is not for them and does not open from inside and the doors of the elevator should not be forced open in any circumstance. Forcing the doors open can actually break the equipment, cause a delay in the rescue, and result in injuries. Let the passengers know it is okay to get comfortable and sit down.
  5. Call your elevator service provider with all of the details and ask how long it will be before they can arrive on the scene. They will not know how long it will take to get the people out until they are onsite and make an assessment.
  6. Contact the people in the car with updates as needed. If it is going to be a while you may want to ask them if there is anyone they need contacted (dinner reservations to business meetings). Go the extra mile, they may not have their cell phones and this will help keep them calm.
  7. Unless you are a trained and licensed elevator technician, you should not try to open the elevator doors or get it moving unless you are specifically told to do so by a qualified person.

You should know if you are the auto-dialed, priority call for the elevator car. Sometimes the emergency phones are programmed to contact the non-emergency police or fire department in the local jurisdiction. They can also be programmed to contact your elevator service company. No matter who is called automatically, it still does not relieve you of your obligations to the passengers. Finding the right floor and speaking to them through the door, if you don’t have the phone number for the elevator car, is the next best option. Don’t let people just stand there wondering. That is when they start thinking about escape instead of waiting.

Keep in mind that elevators getting stuck is a rarity in the United States and injuries are even rarer. Especially considering that elevators move approximately the entire world’s population or 10 billion passengers a week. There is the occasional mechanical problem, but recent statistics show only 1 elevator ride in 12 million results is some kind of problem and the problem is most often minor.

If you remain calm and professional the incident will be quickly resolved and the passengers will be out safe and sound.

7 thoughts on “Trapped – What to do if you’re in charge when the elevator breaks.

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