[edvard exit] In an emergency situation,
will your EXIT sign work?

Why are low visibility and low reliability
light sources still permitted
15 years after LED EXITs
were invented?

Are the committees that write
the rules concerned for safety,
profits, or victims
of a bureaucratic mess?

It is life-safety equipment.

Why do building managers find
themselves responsible for
maintaining emergency equipment
so unreliable that it is practically
impossible to keep
in operating condition?

Can you find your way out if an
emergency hits your building?



NEWS FLASH: NEMA RELEASES EM-1 Sept. 10, 2003 !!!


(The Emergency Exit Debate Goes Unreported For Years, Until Now... )

by David Gilbert (7/20/01)

We've been advocating higher reliability standards for years (since 1987), encountering naysayers all along the way, "If we can get sprinklers in every building, emergency exits may not be needed." And, " First, the power would have to fail and, then, the emergency lighting would have to fail, before you would even need the exit sign to light." Well, let's take a closer look. Let's not require life-safety equipment where it's not needed. However, where we do need it, not only for fire, but for ordinary blackout, tornado, earthquake, after shocks, or terrorist threat; can we depend on it?

How likely is it, that the building you are in, would lose electrical power, the emergency lighting would fail, several exit signs fail, and, you, with a dire need to exit the building, find yourself in complete darkness, waiting for a fire, tornado, after shock, or terrorist to find you? It's more likely than you think. To begin with, the code required, ninety minute, emergency lighting/exit operating time, nor the code required, routine maintenance of equipment, dancing in the heads of bureaucrats at the NFPA and UL, has ever actually existed outside their ivory towers. They write code in a dream world. Take your flashlight with you on your next trip. Members of our nation's emergency lighting committees do. Just ask them if they recommend packing a flashlight.


The National Fire Protection Association's Life Safety Code® long required emergency EXIT signs to "be suitably illuminated by a reliable light source". Why are fragile, unreliable, energy-eating, light sources still used in emergency EXIT signs fifteen years after LED Exits were invented?

In 1999, we asked the NFPA® to make their Life Safety Code more explicit by requiring light sources to have a mean time to failure of 10 years or longer, 5 years or longer, 2 years or longer, or (at least) 1 year.

The response: "The committee is uncertain how to measure the 'mean time to failure'. The issue is more one of maintenance than choice of equipment. The proposed requirement would be unreasonable for those facilities that practice maintenance and replace fixtures as necessary."

We ask, how reasonable is it currently, when so many emergency exit signs are chosen by low bid that Americans (janitors in public schools, for example) find themselves responsible for life safety equipment so unreliable they have no reasonable chance to keep them in operating order. To view our actual proposals, see: 1999 NFPA Report On Proposals, November Meeting - New Orleans, LA, pg. 143, Log #352-356.


How many smoke detectors would work, if home owners had to remember to check their indicator light to know that the battery is dead? Emergency exit signs are also life safety equipment; yet, a low battery beeper is not a requirement.

It is argued that requiring a low battery beeper for exit signs (like we do for smoke detectors) would put an undue economic burden on building owners.

On the other hand, would a Self-Diagnostic, Low Battery Beeper give building owners / managers a fighting chance to pass inspections, or, more importantly, to be ready for emergencies? Is it true that very few actually have time to push battery test buttons every month the way codes require? In reality, do far too many simply not do it? And, more to the point, if a low battery beeper were required, would the price drop quickly, significantly? Is public safety unaffordable?


Will a moment of bright, smoke-penetrating, light save Eddie (above)? It's been argued that when there's enough smoke to obscure an emergency exit sign, the would-be escapee's fate is already sealed by smoke, heat, or poisonous gases. On the other hand, could a moment of true direction save your life? There is solid evidence of this available on videotape1. Please, take note of the fellow who escapes through tremendous smoke and heat, only because of the bright, guiding light he sees through the doorway.

A Troublesome Development

The NFPA has recently moved in the opposite direction, removing any reference to brightness from their Life Safety Code (which most states adopt as law). UL then weakened the performance requirements, willy-nilly, essentially to zero.
There appears to be no other reason to do this but to promote photo-luminescent exit signs with a brightness requirement 200 times lower than for the worst type of  signs currently allowed (tritium), and 5000 times lower than normal UL924 requirements! Photo-luminescent materials are acceptable as a supplemental pathway marker, but are nowhere near bright enough for use as the primary exit sign, or guiding light, above the door. What brightness it has, doesn't last and you can't see them through the least bit of smoke.

Troublesome Designs

Please, investigate the low brightness allowed for both photo luminescent and tritium exit signs. Both are ridiculous, almost unbelievable stories. NFPA and UL are now poised to allow photo-luminescent exit signs to be even dimmer than tritium. With a straight face, these dim sign manufacturers tell you that their technology's long life and oh so even luminosity compensate for their lack of brightness. Does it?

A light source is required to charge photo luminescent material and there are no reliable specifications for it in UL's test proposals. No matter how reliable the photo luminescent material is, how about the charging light source? The source must be there, with sufficient charging power, 24 hours a day, non-stop, in order to be ready for an emergency. It is not so easy to select the proper type of charging light source in the first place and even more difficult for an inspector to check it, if the effort is ever made. And, finally, what does this do for energy efficiency?

Again we see an unsubstantiated reliance on the AHJ or Authority Having Jurisdiction (see the NFPA response to our proposal above). Federal authorities looked at their own emergency lighting/EXIT signs recently and found "a regrettable consistency in the lack of proper testing and maintenance."2 Is it any different, anywhere else?


Any feature, long life, even illumination, or whatever photo-luminescent or tritium materials can provide, could be designed into, even combined into, a design with a LED light source, if need be. The use of LEDs in EXIT signs is not in question. It is the most reliable light source available to design engineers, today, that's bright enough to be a suitable guiding light.

Whatever technology is used, the guiding light must be highly reliable, visible through a fair amount of smoke, and for a sufficiently long amount of time. Emergencies don't always occur at the same time as the power outage. There is no reason performance standards can't be written that will actually provide reliable life safety equipment, reliable public safety. The technology exists. These inferior exit signs never made sense before. Now that superior technology exists, it's ridiculous! Free our nation's engineers. Let them compete. They could easily amaze us.


It appears obvious that performance standards should be much higher and we should be able to find a way to do it. Yet, there appears to be tremendous effort in the wrong direction. Why? Is the problem the people within the standards making system, the organizations pulling their strings, or the system itself? 

NFPA and UL officials keep saying they need a stack full of proof to write standards that exclude any technology. This constant assertion that we must be fair to all the various technologies, begs the question: Perhaps, we haven't been fair enough to the candle makers? We say no candle-powered EXIT signs and, yes, higher performance standards! 

Are these specific emergency exit issues being decided by a small group of insulated bureaucrats, mesmerized by their own inner culture? Are there unseen pressures that drive standards ever lower?

Surely, this whole thing isn't about the competition between NFPA, and other code makers/ publishers (ICBO, ICC, BOCA, IAPMO, SBCCI, etc.) for book sales revenues? Lost book sales, even in the millions, to other code makers/publishers surely wouldn't influence anyone's scientific view of emergency exit standards?

Could UL have found itself with no NFPA requirements to point to for protection from lawsuits, expected from corporations who wouldn't want to be restrained from selling inadequate life safety products? Are UL engineer's paychecks affected by how many different products they have to test and how many tests they can insist be run on them?

My engineers' goals are to design great public safety equipment, not the cheapest thing we can get through woefully inadequate, minimum requirements testing. However, designing down to low minimum standards is exactly how the vast majority of this emergency equipment seems to be created. Any quality product that might manage to get specified is usually, quickly replaced, by low bid, with the cheapest available substitute. The system creates "cheap" life safety equipment.

Are life safety equipment choices overly influenced by the low bid process and minimum standards stuck in the status quo, economic interests of influential dinosaurs? If performance standards are raised, does out-dated manufacturing equipment which makes unsafe public safety equipment become obsolete and reduce corporate profits? If standards are raised, will system monsters, like Godzilla, return over and over again to tear down our standards, with unbelievable stealth.

Can we even get performance standards raised to a reasonable level in the first place?

The Smoke Screen

A whole set of arguments are routinely encountered when raising the brightness issue. Number one has been that smoke research is too difficult (i.e. There is black smoke and white smoke, smoke that hugs the ceiling and smoke that is inverted [pushed to the floor by sprinklers] and on and on). Granted visibility through smoke is a difficult subject. For years, we wondered aloud if smoke was too difficult for the National Fire Protection Association? We posted our concerns here and mailed a copy to the NFPA.

On July 16, 1999, we received a press release entitled, "National Fire Research Foundation Announces Smoke Hazard Study". I attended the first meeting. It will have, nothing to do with Emergency Lighting or EXIT signs.

In 1992 and again in 1999, more than a hundred "leaders and enlightened practitioners from all facets of fire safety design and regulatory practice met to review progress" of the paradigm shift to performance standards. They plan to meet again in 2002. I have been at this for for over a decade. My chief engineer, Tom Burnet, once chief engineer at Lithonia Lighting, goes back considerably farther. Excuse us, if we don't applaud. This committee will have a nice little discussion, do nothing about this, and schedule their next meeting.

These committees appear blinded and deafened by the movement to performance standards (not a bad idea in itself). However, the existing standard for brightness is being thoughtlessly cast aside with no replacement. No performance standard tests for brightness or visibility through smoke exist. Should Underwriter's Laboratories, Inc. be entrusted to make up these standards, alone, willy-nilly, in their ivory tower? That's where it stands at the moment. Why doesn't the public know what's happening?


"We The People" are being kept in the dark. There has been no public discussion. No newspaper coverage, nothing, no sincere investigative media attention. You'll need a suitcase full of questions and a no non-sense attitude to bust through the bureaucratic facade because you will encounter level after level of status quo defenders.

They will tell you it's being taken care of, there's a system in place, in which all the "stakeholders" are involved, and that there is no proof a problem exists, no body count. However, the public doesn't seem to be considered a stakeholder, no one has really looked for the bodies and a dead body can't tell you it's lying there because it couldn't find its' way out.

Can You Hear Eddie Screaming?

NO ONE IS MAKING SURE WE CAN GET OUT OF BUILDINGS IN EMERGENCIES!!! This is happening right now! This problem is systematic, not temporary. Investigate! Write a letter. Write an article. Do something! Seriously, you had better include something extra in your local, state, or national law about reliability and visibility because the insulated  ETL/NFPA/UL process has now removed any reference to a need for a reliable, bright light above doors from codes.

The NFPA/UL system isn't working.3 This king has no clothes!4

Don't let anyone make you double-think and forget you were searching for the truth about the lack of reliability and visibility of emergency lighting/EXIT signs. Remember, many of the EXIT signs sold are still the old unreliable incandescent type. And, let's not forget, the color blind, the elderly, the handicapped, or a vision for the future.


Why have the basic problems of unreliable light sources, dimness, and battery failures gone so long and continue to go un-addressed by the system? Why such low performance standards? Since the answers we have received from the powers that be make no sense, we are left to search for reason on our own. There doesn't seem to be any.

How do we explain the proliferation of unreliable, dimly lit, short operating, emergency exit equipment? NFPA? ICBO? ICC? BOCA? IAMPO? SBCCI? UL? ETL? WTO? Who? And, why an operating time of only one and a half hours? How about one and one half days as a goal?

Don't you think we might be able to make a better EXIT sign / emergency egress system today than we could with decades old technology? Why lower performance standards? Shouldn't life safety standards evolve higher with the advent of  new, better technologies? What committee mechanism, what balance of powers, will provide for the advance to better, safer, life safety equipment? And, how do we do it without the government?

How will the public receive the best solution to get people out of buildings during emergencies?  Does science5 get a vote? Does more research exist than is listed below? Should more research be done?

Is anyone to blame or has an endless loop of non-responsibility been created? Perhaps, this is a story of a bunch of wonderful people caught in an out-of whack system, praying the deus ex machina, free press will save them?

Can we have some serious sunlight here? Will these problems not only remain, but increase unless our nation's press gets seriously involved? What ever happened to all those Woodward and Bernstein wannabes? Want to make this world a better place? Can an investigative reporter get beyond the smoke screen?

Anyone Can make a proposal to the  Life Safety Code® 6
or make a request for a formal interpretation of the existing code.

We did!



COMMITTEE STATEMENT: The approach of creating a subset of signs designated as "special purpose" limits the capability to use signs other than those that are electrically illuminated. The submitter has not adequately substantiated the proposed change and its limiting effect.

MY STATEMENT: As I told the voting members at the 1999 NFPA meeting in New Orleans, just after they voted to stop discussion on the issue, while several members, including me, stood in line for the microphone (apparently a tradition at NFPA meetings), "You are all undereducated on this issue! Study this issue! Study this issue! You are endangering the public!"

1 WGBH Educational Foundation. 1999. ESCAPE! Because Accidents Happen, Fire. Order this and other NOVA Videos from WGBH Boston Video, PO Box 2284, South Burlington, VT 05407-2284. Call (800) 949-8670. www.wgbh.org  

2 Report on Fire Safety Inspections of Congressional Buildings. Office of the General Council, Office of Compliance, Room LA 200, John Adams Building, 110 Second Street S.E., Washington, DC 20540-1999. To request a copy of this report: Telephone (202) 724-9250. TTY (202) 426-1665.

3 Fire Safety in The Library of Congress. Office of General Council, Office of Compliance, Room LA 200, John Adams Building, 110 Second Street S.E., Washington, DC 20540-1999. To request a copy of this report: Telephone (202) 724-9250. TTY (202) 426-1665.

4 The King's New Clothes. (Hans Christian Anderson?)

5 Collins, B. L., Dahir, M. S., and Madrzykowski, D. 1992. Visibility of Exit Signs in Clear and Smoky Conditions. JOURNAL of the Illuminating Engineering Society. Volume 21, Number 1, Winter 1992. Pages 69-84.

And, now, this...


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