What to Do If You’re Stuck in an Elevator
Stay calm and don’t try to be an action hero
It was a lovely outdoor wedding on the Potomac River — a gentle breeze, white tablecloths, an expectant crowd of family and friends. The bride doesn’t appear, and the crowd begins to murmur. Minutes tick past. The groom is nowhere to be found, either, and the rabbi and the wedding planner are missing in action, too.
It turns out the about-to-be-married couple Liz Copland and Harry Stein had gotten stuck in a freight elevator along with their entire bridal party, according to news accounts. It could have been a Bridezilla Moment, but instead the bride and wedding party found occasion for laughter, instagramming photos as they waited for firefighters to rescue them.
Being trapped in an elevator is rarely fun, but it’s also fairly rare, considering how often people choose to use them: 18 billion rides a year in the United States, according to the National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC).
Even so, it's good to know what to do if you ever find yourself stuck in an elevator (especially if you tend to be claustrophobic). Here are some safety
tips, courtesy of Edward Donoghue, managing director of NAEC.
Push the button marked “help.” “If people are stuck in an elevator, they’ll be inconvenienced, but if they push the help button, they’ll get out,” says Donoghue. “Where people often get in trouble is if they push the "door open" button and when it doesn’t work, they force the door open. It’s a very unsafe thing to do.” Be aware that the people you’re calling with the "help" button may be in a remote call center, so make it clear you’re trapped in the elevator.
Use your cell phone to call for help. If you press the “help” button and nothing happens, use your cell phone to call 911.
Don’t push the “earthquake” button unless you're in an earthquake. In California and other places where earthquakes are common, many elevators are equipped with an “earthquake” button. If you’re in an earthquake, pressing it will cause the elevator to speed you to the first available floor.
Never try to climb out of the elevator. This is really dangerous. You can fall right down the "hoistway” — aka the elevator shaft, according to Donoghue. Not to mention what might happen if the elevator suddenly started up again.
Forget about jumping up and down. In an interview with NBC, Richard Gail of the Newark, New Jersey, fire department laughed when asked about jumping up and down. "Oh no, it doesn’t work," he said. According to Gail, the scene in the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” in which everyone jumping together dislodges the elevator, isn’t true to reality.
Don’t panic. Try breathing deeply to calm yourself. Even if you have a phobia of elevators, you can make it through the ordeal, according to psychiatrist Fredric Neuman, MD. In a blog for Psychology Today, he said several of his elevator-phobic patients were stuck overnight in elevators during a New York City blackout. All of them were able to calm down after 30 or 45 minutes and spent the night without a single panic attack.
Preparing for an elevator emergency
Do not ride an elevator during a fire or earthquake, warns the National Fire Protection Agency. As far as being prepared goes, carrying a charged cell phone, snacks and a large bottle of water is a good idea, especially if you’re using an elevator during the holidays or when other people are away.
Consider the example of Sister Margaret Geary, 85, a nun who in 2011 was stuck for four days in an elevator in her convent in Baltimore, according to a story in Time magazine. Her sisters were out of town during a convention and her cell phone had no signal, so she survived by consuming the celery sticks, water and cough drops she had brought with her. Saying it was either “panic or pray,” the hardy nun described her experience as a “gift.” That’s not how most folks would feel about being stuck in an elevator, but the water bottle and celery were certainly important in staving off the dehydration that can threaten people stuck for hours or days in an elevator.