Smaller-Elevator-PictureWhen you get on an elevator, have you ever thought: what if I get stuck in here? Or even worse: what if the cable breaks and the elevator plunges all the way down to the ground?

The good news is that despite the ubiquity of elevators (there are nearly 700,000 elevators in the U.S. and they move at least 325 million passengers per day), statistically speaking, elevators have the best safety record of all vehicle systems. There is just a 1 in 12 million chance of a glitch in the system, and in the rare cases that elevators have malfunctioned, the vast majority of passengers have escaped completely unharmed.

Elevators use multiple steel cables, each one of which is able to hold the entire elevator plus its maximum capacity. Although the popular Disney World ride “Tower of Terror” might make you believe otherwise, even if all of the cables were to snap at the same time, the elevator wouldn’t simply plunge to the ground. Instead, the braking system would kick in, clamping onto the rails that the elevator runs on. In a worst-case scenario, if all the cables were to snap and the braking system were to fail as well, the air trapped under the elevator would slow your descent and the shock absorber built in underneath the floor of the elevator would also cushion the fall, greatly improving your chances of surviving.

Here’s what you can do to minimize the risk of other elevator-related mishaps:

  • In the case of a fire or other emergency evacuation, never take the elevator. Always used the stairs to exit the building.
  • Be sure to regard the maximum capacity limit that is listed on a plaque on the elevator wall. Normally, the elevator won’t move if overloaded, and will buzz until the weight is lightened.
  • Don’t block or try and force open closing elevator doors – press the “Open Door” button instead.
  • Watch your step! Elevators may not always stop exactly level with the floor.
  • In the unlikely event that the elevator stops unexpectedly and you are “stuck”:
    • Try pressing another floor or the “Open Door” button.
    • Use the emergency telephone to call for help. If for some reason this isn’t working, you can use your cell phone to call emergency services.
    • Stay calm. Try playing games on your cell phone or distract yourself until help comes. Take deep breaths and close your eyes if you are feeling claustrophobic.
    • Never attempt to exit the elevator or pry open the doors without instruction.

A great documentary with further information on elevators and elevator safety can be found here.

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