Photoluminescence Technology Saves Lives, Energy and Costs

Anything with batteries or electricity will fail when you need it most. Photoluminescent (glow in the dark) safety and egress systems are more effective.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This could not be more true when it comes to emergency planning. Today, most safety signage and markings rely on highly visible colors or reflective materials that become ineffective during a blackout. Moreover, battery-powered systems and back-up generators, used as redundancy systems for emergency and egress lighting, are unreliable and create an immense false sense of security.

In fact, “back-up generators fail 20 to 30 percent of the time,” found Arshad Mansoor, senior vice president for R&D at the Electric Power Research Institute. This is mostly because generators are not properly maintained or used.

“It’s maintenance related,” says Dan Zimmerle, assistant research professor at Colorado State University. “For instance, if you don’t burn diesel fuel sitting in the tank, it will start to degrade and clog the fuel filters. Things that don’t get used tend to fail.”

Click here to see the 50 REASONS GENERATORS FAIL

Battery-powered lighting and egress systems are not only inherently unreliable, but it is also very time-consuming and expensive to maintain them. Typical testing for just 500 electric exit signs can run between $10,000 and $20,000 per year.

Add the costs of energy usage, replacement batteries and bulbs, in addition to labor costs, and the expenses just keep piling up. As a result, proper maintenance and inspections do not get completed.

An independent test was recently completed at several randomly selected hotels. Out of 169 fixtures tested for 30 seconds, a whopping 46 of them – or 27 percent – failed the test. The bottom line is anything with batteries or electricity will fail when you need it most.

However, there is a more effective and energy- efficient solution with zero maintenance costs – photoluminescence safety and egress systems.

Across the Pond

Photoluminescent technology has been used for industrial safety for decades in Europe, but it only started to gain traction in the United States after the 1993 World Trade Towers truck bombing. Because the backup generator and many of the battery backups in the exit signs failed, people had to vacate the Twin Towers in complete darkness. One can only imagine the primal fear these people experienced as they walked down thousands of stairs in total darkness. After this incident, New York City passed Building Code 26, which requires all commercial high-rise buildings to have photoluminescent stairwell markings.

Eight years later, the 9/11-commission report would reference photoluminescent technology several times as helping the 17,400 people escape. The events of 9/11 proved that this innovative technology not only helps with the evacuation and egress of civilians, but also highlights a tremendous opportunity to help firefighters reduce disorientation and increase accountability. Founded by a firefighter who witnessed the dangers that occur during unexpected blackouts firsthand, one company MN8 Foxfire develops photoluminescent products similar to those used in the stairwells of the World Trade Towers. The company started by making accessories firefighters could use on their tools and equipment to help them navigate through dark and smoke-filled environments. Foxfire products have now been used by more than 60,000 firefighters in over 25 countries.

Ongoing R&D

The success in the firefighting industry has not only allowed for investment in breakthrough R&D to make the technology glow brighter and longer, but it also has helped the company expand into safety and egress systems. This advanced technology, previously only available to firefighters, is now available to all people firefighters protect.

Photoluminescent products emit light for dozens of hours if the power fails. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, photoluminescent exit signs are the most energy-efficient exit signs available. They charge very quickly from virtually any light source and can be recharged indefinitely, making them ideal for use in industrial settings, commercial and residential buildings, stadiums, and auditoriums. In locations with proper charging sources, they can have an unlimited service life.

Products range from illuminating liquid stair nosing to UL-listed “EXIT” signs, to illuminating adhesive railing covers, to a large variety of safety signage. Because they do not rely on batteries or external power, photoluminescent products are incredibly cost-effective as there is no need to test and replace batteries and bulbs or for ongoing inspections.

Despite meeting local codes, many buildings and structures have insufficient emergency lighting. During smoke conditions, emergency signage lit by electricity is frequently obscured. We recommend photoluminescent products be used in addition to fire and building codes, not to replace them, to make sure absolutely everything has been done to help building occupants get out safely during an evacuation. Also, it’s extremely beneficial to install these illuminating exit signs and egress maps 6 inches above the floor. In the event of a fire, smoke will rise and start to bank down from the ceiling thereby obscuring exit signage and egress maps. As occupants crawl down smoke-filled hallways, this signage will allow them to easily identify the nearest exit.

With photoluminescent solutions, you can provide reliable life-saving exit guidance in any conditions, reducing panic, improving evacuations and increasing safety. These eco-friendly products reduce risk, qualify for LEED credits, save money, and most importantly – work when you need them most.

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