Running through Emergency Lighting

Running through Emergency Lighting

This piece was originally published in the May 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Tony Campbell, Director, Brand Management, Dual-Lite, and Compass, Hubbell Lighting Brands

If you think about it, one of the most dangerous places to be in is a confined space in an unfamiliar public building.

Theaters, arenas, casinos, and other venues for entertainment encourage relaxation, yet these settings often have poor emergency lighting and dimly lit exit signs. As a result of globalization and the ease of travel, a person moving from one location to another—especially if only temporarily—is in the dark, so to speak, during a situation where there is a loss of power and normal lighting.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that panic is a primary contributor to injury and loss of life during an emergency. Having a consistent emergency lighting response from building to building, city to city, and country to country would greatly reduce the panic induced during an emergency. Thus, there is an effort, albeit a slow one, to harmonize emergency lighting standards around the world.

NEMA consistently works with standards organizations from Canada, Mexico, and other countries to harmonize emergency lighting standards. Most of the world is standardizing the “running man” exit sign. It incorporates an internationally recognized symbol and is easily understood no matter what native language is spoken. However, there is still work to be done on standardizing what qualifies as sufficient illumination of exit sign faces, the acceptance of their corresponding testing methodology, and minimum required emergency lighting levels in the path of egress.

Smaller Footprints, Smarter Results

Recent advancements in battery technology and supercapacitors are also having a profound effect on emergency lighting. Batteries using nickel metal hydride or lithium ion chemistries are finding their way into the emergency lighting market. The newer battery chemistries have greater energy densities, meaning the same size battery can power a greater load and run for a longer period or can be redesigned with fewer batteries.

Newer battery chemistries are typically more environmentally friendly, with fewer toxic materials used in production. Coupling this with smaller, more energy efficient light-emitting diode (LED) lamp sources, manufacturers can redesign emergency lighting fixtures with smaller footprints and more appealing aesthetics.

Emergency luminaires and systems with embedded intelligence and enhanced communications capabilities are on the edge of market acceptance. Solid-state technology gives users the ability to monitor, control, record, and communicate the status of several criteria within an emergency lighting system that is incorporated into a significantly reduced footprint.

Many systems now use visual cues (e.g., a blinking LED) to convey a lamp fault, circuit failure, or discharged battery. This type of communication, however, requires human intervention, thereby opening it to mistakes. Individuals must walk an entire facility to check and record the system status of each emergency luminaire. Although the life safety code requires this inspection every month, relatively few facilities comply.

With advanced communications capabilities, status recording of emergency lighting systems can be accomplished with web-based monitoring, bypassing the need for monthly maintenance. The code allows centralized testing and monitoring as long as results are recorded. Using digital addressing, mesh networks, and other technologies, end users can identify specific emergency fixtures that need attention as well as the exact steps for correction.

On the horizon are self-healing, self-learning, and self-commissioning networks that are integrated with emergency lighting systems in building management systems. NEMA has a critical role to play in convening the proper stakeholders to ensure that this evolution continues. Advancing standards and incorporating these technologies will save lives, time, and money while establishing a more compliant environment.


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