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Elevator and Escalator Consulting Engineers

Rising Waters - Impact on Elevator and Escalators

 An event such as a flood or fire can cause extensive damage and cripple a building. Elevators are especially susceptible to flooding given that the elevator pits are usually one of the lowest points in a building and therefore water will pool there. Whether the flooding is caused by a natural disaster, by a broken pipe somewhere in the building or by a drain back-up, more than likely the elevators in the building will be impacted in some manner. 

There are some things that can be done to help alleviate the effects of flooding on an elevator. There are various products out there that are able to sense water in the elevator pit and move the elevator cab to a safer position within the hoistway, limiting the damage to the equipment. While products such as this will help to limit damage, they will not prevent damage entirely. 
Information Gathering 
Elevator pits often contain a host of elevator equipment that is fixed within the pit, with the majority of the equipment being susceptible to water damage. Therefore insurance plays an important role during unforeseen events such as flooding where damage occurs to elevators. When flooding occurs, building Owners and Managers should take special care to record as much information about the event as possible. Information will allow for the insurer to review the case and make decisions much faster. The following factors should be observed and recorded where possible:
When did the flooding occur (date and time) and for how long?
When did the flooding first start or when was it noticed?
For how long was water entering the shaft? If a pipe burst, how long was the water running before the source was shut-off?
Where did the water enter the elevator shaft?
Did the pit drain backup causing the pit to flood or did a pipe burst on the 15th floor showering water down the hoistway?
Approximately how much water entered the elevator shaft?
If a pipe has burst what is the flow rate?
How high did the water level reach in the pit (if a contractor is on site to provide pit access)?
Was there only a puddle of water on the pit floor or was the water 5 feet deep?
Where in the shaft was the elevator located when the flooding occurred?
Did the elevator continue to run as the flooding continued and if so for how long?
Information such as this will help consultants, contractors and insurers during their review of the equipment. This in turn will likely ensure that your insurance claim is settled more quickly.
Depending on the type of flooding that an elevator (or escalator) is exposed to it may continue to operate while in contact with water. Where equipment has been exposed to flooding it should shut down.  If possible, elevators should be parked at the mid-point of the hoistway and left there until the equipment is inspected.
An inspection of the flooded equipment should be completed by an elevator maintenance company and by an elevator consultant. Such inspections should take place as soon as possible once a flood has been identified. The sooner that the equipment can be inspected the better as most of the information concerning the flood, and the affected equipment, can only be gained at the actual time of the flood or shortly after. As time progresses specifics regarding the flood will become more difficult to ascertain therefore the elevator maintenance company and elevator consultant should be contacted as soon as possible.
Potential Damage 
The following components are damaged during floods based on the type and extent of the water :
Elevator Pit
- Guide rails, rail brackets;
- Both oil- and spring-type buffers (oil buffers require oil replacement if water gets into the system);
- Limit switches and hoistway wiring; and
- Elevator entrance sills and door equipment could be effected should the water level reach the height of the entrance.
Hydraulic elevators
- the hydraulic cylinder and piping
- hydraulic plunger; and
- LifeJacket components
- hoist ropes, 
- governor sheaves and ropes
- compensation sheaves and ropes (where provided);
- any wiring, electromechanical components or circuit board equipment directly affected by the flooding.
Here is some more detail on the impact of water on hoist ropes Brugg Rope Article
- The escalator controller and main line disconnect;
- Wiring, safety circuits and safety switches;
- Tension carriage components;
- The handrail drive chain, handrail newel, and if old vintage canvas type handrails are installed, the handrail itself;
- Step chain and main drive chain; and
- The step rollers on every step.
If a given escalator is shut down during the flood, damage is typically limited to the lower ‘pit’. In the event the escalator is running during the flood, water can be transported throughout the entire unit causing wide-spread damage – this can be heightened further on down-running units in which the steps traveling upwards in an upside down position act as a conveyor to bring water to the top of the escalator.
KJA has extensive experience, both nationally and internationally, in reviewing damage to elevator equipment caused by unexpected events. We have worked on individual one-off insurance claims such as drain back-ups or burst pipes as well as large catastrophic events.