Odds are that when most of us look for space in a commercial office tower or a unit in a condominium, little thought goes to the functionality of the building’s elevators. In fact, there’s a good chance that we don’t even think about these fast-moving pieces of infrastructure, unless we have a specific, pre-existing interest in lift operations.
It may be time to start paying attention.
As more high-rise buildings are constructed across the Greater Toronto Area—some soaring to dizzying heights of 80 stories or more—as well as in major urban centres across the country, operational challenges are becoming a more pressing concern for owners and managers of commercial and residential properties. Specifically, a flurry of recent media headlines has focused on residents left stranded when an apartment or condominium building’s entire elevator bank goes out of operation at once. Others have pointed to elevator issues in office towers where, in some cases, tenants have been unable to access their offices despite the significant bottom-line business consequences.
A challenge for mobility-impaired tenants
Other, more damaging, headlines highlight the plight of vulnerable groups of residents such as the disabled and seniors, who wind up stranded in their apartments when lifts are taken out of operation. Not only is this a massive inconvenience, it puts lives at risk when individuals with mobility or cognitive issues are unable to exit buildings in the event of a major emergency such as a fire. In other cases, such as a medical emergency, accessing those same individuals can cost precious minutes and quickly become a matter of life and death. For property owners and managers, this kind of news is not only bad for a property’s brand—negatively impacting tenant attraction and retention, and potentially even rental prices—but also represents a major liability threat.
The obvious solution is to work with a reputable elevator supplier and install only the best possible equipment, then be sure to maintain it on a regular schedule; maintenance must also be coordinated to ensure that all of a building’s elevators aren’t out of service at the same time. But far less obvious is the need to look at elevator operation as a security issue, thereby underscoring its importance.
As we see in so many residential and commercial engagements, few infrastructure-related issues generate more angst, arguments and animosity than those related to elevator functionality. We’ve literally seen fist fights break out over access to lifts when one or more are down, particularly when an elevator is put on service for moving purposes. These problems tend to be exacerbated in older buildings that have only two elevators—newer builds tend to have at least three elevators, two for passengers and one for both passenger and service use.
Looking at elevator performance through a security lens
Our recommendation is to work with your security team—whether outsourced or in-house—to develop a strategy to proactively manage elevator challenges before they arise. For example, if you know that an elevator is due for maintenance, work with your elevator service provider to schedule that servicing well before it turns into a crisis need. Collaborate with both building maintenance and security to determine times that are best suited to conducting maintenance, such as when traffic levels aren’t at their peak and when tenants aren’t attempting to move items into or out of the building. Then be prepared to revise that plan to address ongoing changes to everything from the building’s tenant composition to operational circumstances.
Next, train your guards to understand those procedures and how to implement them at a moment’s notice. That should include arming them with effective communications tools—everything from lobby signage and tenant email addresses, to talking points—designed to keep key stakeholders informed and up-to-date on the status of elevator issues and, most importantly, a timeline explaining when they’ll likely be resolved. One of the most important aspects of that training is enhancing guards’ focus on customer service. Security staff will need to understand how to defuse tenant tensions by showing empathy, while also clearly explaining the plan to address the issue at hand.
Security training is essential
Last, but definitely not least, guards should be trained in the basic operation of necessary control panels and have direct access to your elevator maintenance service provider. All too often, repairs are delayed because managers or guards simply don’t know who to call. That’s an inexcusable oversight that’s easily remedied by preparing an emergency contact list (stored digitally and in hard copy format at a concierge desk or security office) with email addresses and phone numbers for mission-critical service providers.
At a time when sustainable urban planning guidelines are calling for our cities to be built up rather than out, and with more lifts being installed now than at any time in Toronto’s history, treating this key piece of infrastructure as an afterthought is no longer an option. For commercial and residential property owners and managers, the smooth elevator operation stakes are just too high to ignore.
Winston Stewart, President and CEO