Rises to the Challenge of COVID-19
Living or working on a high floor of a skyscraper used to be an appealing prospect for many people.
They enjoyed the birds-eye views and the sense of prestige. With the onset of COVID-19, however, enthusiasm waned, primarily because of concerns about elevators and the perceived danger of infection posed by prolonged time in their closed-in spaces. Are these concerns misplaced? We spoke with John R. Moran III, senior principal, who leads Syska’s vertical transportation group, to find out what building owners and operators are doing to increase safety.
Destination Dispatch: Latest Applications
Even before the pandemic hit, a system called destination dispatch was gaining traction, especially within Class-A properties. This system responds to “calls” for certain floors from users and assigns elevators accordingly, optimizing efficiency, reducing wait times, and – especially important during the pandemic – minimizing the risk of overcrowding: People spread out near the elevator banks because they are waiting for different cabs.
Another benefit destination dispatch offers is near-touchless access. In many instances, the only touchpoint is the initial call. Users have no other buttons to press.
Today, it’s possible to remove all touchpoints by incorporating technological advances. “We’re starting to see more voice activation to call elevators,” says John. “You can walk into a building and it’s like using Alexa. In the lobby, you give the voice command ‘elevator up,’ and the elevator registers your call. When you get in the cab you say ‘third floor,’ for example, and the elevator takes you to the third floor. You haven’t had to touch any buttons between walking into the building and walking into your office or residence. That’s a huge plus during the pandemic.”
“If your employer is a strict 9-5-er and your office building has an old-school elevator, there are still precautions you can take."
John adds that leading elevator companies are rolling out alternatives to voice activation technology, such as phone-based applications. But for now, budget-minded owners and operators may wish to focus on voice-recognition options, which are fairly inexpensive and can easily be retrofitted into existing systems.
If owners wish to avoid a retrofit, there is another alternative. They can apply a nanoseptic covering to the buttons in the cars, which kills the viruses on touch. “It’s a low-tech option for the conventional two-button dispatch system,” says John. “But there is a downside: The coverings have to be replaced every three months or so.”
Filters and Lights
Other sanitary measures some owners are implementing include HEPA-filter type fans and UVC lighting in elevator cabs. John is not convinced that these measures are effective, at least as of now. “They may help a little bit,” he says. “But in my research I haven’t come across any definitive conclusions.”
John does point out, however, that UVC lighting may be effective in the sterilization of escalators. With escalators, the handrails can be exposed to the light before they return to the open air.
He plans to pay close attention to new developments in sterilization and ventilation in the coming years: “As we move forward, I think someone will come up with a really slick system that accomplishes both – a solution that can be applied to a variety of building types, including office buildings, multifamily residences, hospitals, and even schools.”
The Immediate Future
In the shorter-term, John expects a continued focus on and wider adoption of the destination dispatch technologies. He warns, however, that it’s difficult to assess their impact in office buildings that are only 15 or 20% occupied, which is the case for many in New York City and San Francisco. “If people come back to work en masse before a vaccine is available, they’ll still have to social distance in elevators, and that could lead to long waits and overcrowding in lobbies.” To avoid these scenarios, he suggests flexible work schedules, similar to those that Syska has established. Syska’s policies include alternating on-site/off-site workweeks and floating start times between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. Consequently, says John, “my colleagues and I can figure out how to avoid peak periods.” If your employer is a strict 9-5-er and your office building has an old-school elevator, there are still precautions you can take. John advises office workers to follow the guidelines of the CDC: “Adhere to social distancing, wear a mask in the elevator, and use hand sanitizers. Advanced elevator technologies and workplace flexibility won’t do much good if you neglect the basics.”
“Adhere to social distancing, wear a mask in the elevator, and use hand sanitizers. Advanced elevator technologies and workplace flexibility won’t do much good if you neglect the basics.”