08-01-09 - Failure to prepare leaves library patrons in the dark

A power outage in the city of Alameda, California, made an example of the shortcomings in many public buildings when in comes to emergency and panic hardware, in this case the Alameda Free Library.

During the outage an evacuation of the facility was ordered by the staff with cafe visitors being told to make their way towards the rear emergency exits. However, due to poor planning, the emergency exit doors were locked and even pushing hard on the panic hardware gave no luck to the unhappy patrons.

On top of this, the library had no emergency lighting in place and library visitors were left in the dark until a member of staff directed them towards an egress at the front of the building. Although many divisions of Occupational Safety and Health recommend locking back doors, this comes with the premise that people should still be able to easily exit which the library certainly did not adhere to.

From discussion, it was found that the exit doors to the library at the rear exit are permanently locked and require a member of staff with a key to unlock them. Most standard fire codes state that exit doors should never be provided with a lock or a latch unless it is panic hardware and they should be operable without any special knowledge or effort.

It is vitally important that buildings with a high occupancy volume be fully equipped with applicable panic hardware. This includes retail outlets, schools, offices, hospitals or any other building prone to hazard and high volumes of patrons. Larger premises should also have emergency lighting and photoluminescent signage that point towards emergency exits.

The arrangement by the Alameda Free Library could have cost many lives if the hazard were more serious than a power outage such as a fire or earthquake. Panic hardware should be in place to cope with any event and comply with the relevant standards.

 

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