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Leicester 2002 Wednesday, 11 September, 2002, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Skyscrapers need faster exits
Old Trafford, BBC
Football grounds have an annual safety inspection

Tall buildings in the UK may have to be licensed in the future to ensure they can be evacuated within a set time period.

Football and other sports stadia in Britain already face annual safety inspections and have to show they can get everyone out quickly.

Engineers meeting at the British Association's science festival in Leicester said that after the events of 11 September serious consideration was now being given to introducing a similar certification process for all tall and large buildings in the UK.

The way people are evacuated from skyscrapers could also change, they said, with greater emphasis placed on the use of lifts in addition to using emergency stairs.

Everybody out

In the past week, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has published a discussion document on tall buildings and the measures that might need to be introduced to make them safer.

The document recommends that: "A requirement for tall and large buildings to be fully evacuated within a set time period should be included in the Building Regulations."

London, BBC
Greater use is likely to be made of lifts in an emergency
Dr John Roberts - who chaired the Safety In Tall Buildings Working Group at the Institution of Structural Engineers - picked up this issue at the festival.

"Are you aware that you do not have to have a licence to run a large building with thousands of people in it. There is not an annual certification process. Contrast that with football grounds.

"They have to have an annual safety certificate and as a condition of having it they have to demonstrate that they can exit every single spectator - up to 75,000 people in a ground like Old Trafford - in eight minutes.

"If they can't do that, they don't get their licence. But, amazingly, there is no minimum evacuation time in the UK building codes."

Fire protection

Serious consideration would have to be given to changing this situation, he said.

Dr Roberts, an engineering consultant and professor at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), also suggested the old mantra that you use the stairs in an emergency and not the lifts would have to change.

Fast evacuation of very tall buildings by just the stairs was not possible, he argued.

"People are not going to accept being told to stay in a building if something happens to it. They are going to want to get out. Buildings will have to be designed and tested for total evacuation and it will probably involve the use of lifts," he explained.

Dr Roberts said engineers and architects would have to fit more fire-protected lift-shafts and lifts to provide alternatives to staircases for rapid escape.

At the moment such lifts are reserved in emergencies to take firefighters up to the site on an emergency. Dr Roberts said these special lifts would become much more common place and would be used to provide additional evacuation routes.

"The old saying that you use only the stairs not the lifts will become a thing of the past."

BA science festival at Leicester University.

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