Being trapped in a confined elevator is everyone’s worst nightmare. You’re hanging stories above the ground and your only lifeline is the emergency call button in front of you.
Over the weekend, one New York woman lived this very real scenario, when she was found trapped in a townhouse’s elevator for an entire weekend. According to the New York Times, the elevator had been recently inspected and had no visible problems.
And this happens more than we think: a 2010 study by IBM found that across 16 major US cities, office workers spent a total of 33 years (!) stuck in elevators that year, and that 22 per cent of those stuck waited more than 10 minutes before getting out.
My sixth-floor apartment building has faced its own elevator problems, trapping people almost weekly. It eventually got fixed, but I became accustomed to the sounds of worried people yelling from down the hallway.
So how should you handle this horror movie-in-the-making? Here’s some advice to pulling yourself out of a sticky situation when you’re stranded in an elevator.
This 2008 New Yorker story captures exactly what it’s like to find yourself trapped in an elevator. The story details the experience of Nicholas White, a former Business Week production manager, who found himself stuck in an office elevator for 41 hours.
As the emergency bell rang and rang, he began to fear that it might somehow — electricity? friction? heat? — start a fire. Recently, there had been a small fire in the building, rendering the elevators unusable. The Business Week staff had walked down forty-three stories. He also began hearing unlikely oscillations in the ringing: aural hallucinations. Before long, he began to contemplate death.
This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. When you’re trapped in a small space, it’s very easy to go into fight-or-flight mode. Stay as calm as you can and focus on the task at hand. Getting worked up won’t help you out of the elevator any sooner.
Use the Emergency Phone
In theory, every elevator should have an emergency phone in place, which is usually connected to the building’s security or the elevator company (otherwise, some elevators simply have an emergency call button). Use the phone to locate the appropriate party and be sure to provide your name, address of the building you’re at, and inform them of the problem at hand.
Don’t Jump or Pry Open the Doors
Like any unfixable tool in your life, it’s tempting to jostle the elevator a bit to get it going again. Here’s why you shouldn’t: attempting to move an elevator yourself could only worsen the problem. If you’re high above the ground, you risk falling out of the door. A number of individuals have also died while prying open the doors (which set off a mechanism that allowed for the elevators to operate again).
Don’t Try to Escape Through the Hatch
Movies make it look easy, but it’s usually not a possibility. Most modern elevators no longer have an escape hatch on the ceiling, and if they do, they’re bolted from the outside. If you somehow manage to get through the hatch, if the elevator suddenly operates, you’re also in much greater danger outside of the elevator than you were inside.
Know That You Won’t Free-Fall
It’s a common misconception that elevators are held by a single rope or other tenuous operation. Don’t worry about that. Most elevators contain safety breaks, so a free-fall is virtually impossible (if you’re still concerned, the trick to surviving a free-fall involves spreading your weight and laying down on the middle of the floor).
If no help is on the way and your call is unanswered, call 000 on your mobile phone, assuming you have one on you and have reception. Firefighters are likely to respond quicker than an elevator company, especially if you’re in dire straits. And as mentioned above, remain calm. They’re equipped to handle these emergencies, so do your best to distract yourself while you’re confined (and breathe in and out).