Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Elevators…world’s most used mass transit, and safety tips for people with more sense than this fellow

with 4 comments


A little off my usual topics, but I wrote the following for another site and people seemed to enjoy it. Granted it’s hard to avoid the news, seems like every day now there’s something from the White House so weird that it makes me spew coffee across the room. Then there’s the mess in Pakistan, OBL’s latest recruiting tape, Doctors playing terrorist in the UK, and so on. It will have to wait till tomorrow though, today…elevator stupidity. This post is the sort of random weirdness that I fill my head with, it is mostly from memory. (This is why my friends often call me when they have some odd question and they can’t find the answer in Wikipedia.)

The elevator on a per trip basis is the most common form of mass transit, more people use them daily than any other type of mass transit. The elevator is also the safest form of mass transit on a per trip basis, even escalators are more dangerous. (Best not to think about escalator accidents.) That being said, there are a few elevator safety tips:

When standing by the door waiting for the elevator to arrive, check to make sure the elevator is actually there when the door opens. It sounds obvious, but a couple of people die every year cause the door opens and they blithely step into an empty shaft and fall to their deaths. Um, it’s also a bad idea to lean against the doors while waiting. Or get pushed into the closed doors accidentally or deliberately, elevator doors will pop open like a pet door if pushed hard enough. Yikes.

In the worst case scenario, you are in an elevator that is falling… There is an urban legend that if you jump up and down you might save yourself because if you’re lucky you will be jumping up when it hits the bottom. This is silly, you can jump upwards at maybe a few feet per second, a falling object is going at least 60 feet per second. The difference between hitting the bottom at 58 fps and 60 fps is slightly less splatter. The best thing to do if in a falling elevator, (which is extremely unlikely to happen in any modern elevator by the way) is to lay down flat on the floor to distribute the impact.

People have in fact survived this way, although granted she was laying down because she was in a gurney going transported to a hospital. Betty Lou Oliver survived a plane hitting the Empire State Building, but the elevator plummeted when the emergency workers loaded her into it. (They were unaware that the cables had been weakened by the plane’s impact.) History does not record what she thought on the way down, though I presume it was a colourful version of “Now what?” She survived a 79 floor plunge, still the world’s record.

If you are in an elevator and it stops because of power failure or whatever, stay in the elevator. Don’t try to climb out the hatch in the elevator ceiling, there are all sorts of cables and pulleys up there that will do bad things if you are nearby and they start to move. Newer elevators don’t even have a hatch on the ceiling because of stupid people doing just that. Peeing in the corner in front of strangers is definitely preferable to making up a shark fishing accident story to explain how you lost your arm. Oh, and don’t pry open the regular doors and try to climb out either, as this fellow did.

Lastly, if in an elevator, and it stops between floors but the doors open…just sit tight…don’t try to clamber out of the elevator. Wait till someone arrives to fix the elevator and it moves and stops properly at a floor. There was case like this in Oakland a few years back, two women and a guy were in the elevator when it stopped about three feet below a floor and the door opened. The guy (of course) climbed up the three foot gap and got out. The women said “we’ll wait, thanks.” He leaned partway back into the elevator and offered them his hand and urged them to climb out. The elevator chose that moment to continue downwards. The result was extremely upsetting to the two women, this guy had been their friend and co-worker. On the plus side, being alive and upset is preferable to what happened to him.

One last note, if you drop your keys or something down an elevator shaft, don’t try to retrieve them yourself. Yeesh. Who knew there were so many stupid ways to get hurt or killed by an elevator. This is why they say “You can’t make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.”

(The above image of a floorless elevator is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is central to illustrating the post and it is not being used for profit. The image is actually a clever illusion, the elevator floor has been painted to look like there is no floor.)

Written by unitedcats

July 15, 2007 at 7:37 am

Posted in Berkeley, History

4 Responses

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  1. Thanks, Doug!
    I knew jumping while falling at such a speed wouldn’t help but it was nice to have it confirmed. My biggest fear would be of being stuck in one for more than a few minutes.


    July 15, 2007 at 7:51 am

  2. From now on I’ll just use the stairs.


    July 15, 2007 at 6:15 pm

  3. So terminal velocity for an elevator is around 18 m/s huh? Maybe if you rigged up some sort of bungee/spring system where essentially you were rigged face up (back to the floor) you could survive the plummet. If your initial position was 2.5 m from the floor (i.e. the bungees were pretty tight, and you were essentially hugging the ceiling during descent), you would only have to slow down ~7.2 m/s to dissipate all the energy into the bungees. Of course the spring back up would have to be mitigated by a snap system which would automatically attach itself to the floor as soon as you struck it. I can imagine a few luminaries accomplishing this feat videlicet, MacGyver, Bruce Willis, or Steven Seagal.


    July 17, 2007 at 7:38 am

  4. Thank you so much. I had a fear of elavators and I’m glad to say this has helped. Although if I ever get stuck in an elavator I’m going to be screaming my head off, and crying. But at least I won’t kill myself, unless of course of a panic attack.


    August 17, 2008 at 7:11 pm

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