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Evacuation lifts and the London Plan

Vertical Transportation By Mark Moore, Senior Consultant, Vertical Transportation – 21 October 2021

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Mark Moore

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First published in ARMA magazine.

Issued in March 2021 the London Plan is the Spatial Development Strategy for Greater London and it sets out a framework for how London will develop over the next 20-25 years. The Plan is part of a statutory development plan, meaning that the policies in the Plan should inform decisions on planning applications across the capital. This is also likely to inform the design of developments elsewhere in the UK in the future, it will set out many key planning requirements for the wider built environment.

With specific reference to lifts, the London Plan gives guidance on inclusive design for the provision of lifts within buildings including lifts dedicated to the evacuation of persons who require level access.

Key London Plan Evacuation Lift Requirements

The key evacuation lift requirements found within The London Plan 2021 are summarised below:

  • Development proposals should incorporate ‘safe and dignified emergency evacuation for all building users’ within their design. As a minimum, any development with lifts installed should have one lift per core (or more dependent on capacity assessment) that is suitably sized for fire evacuation with enhanced features to be used during evacuation procedures.
  • The buildings Design Access Statement should include details of the fire evacuation procedures.
  • All building users, including those who require step-free access, should be able to evacuate the building with dignity by as independent means possible
  • What is an Evacuation Lift?
  • An Evacuation Lift is used as a normal passenger lift when not being used for evacuation purposes.

Evacuation Lifts are designed to be an aid for evacuating those less ambulant, or those in need of level access, in the event of an emergency (as part of a defined evacuation strategy). The lift is provided with specific features to enable the evacuation of people under a managed evacuation plan. The evacuation plan typically requires a minimum of two people managing the process, meaning that in residential environments without an onsite management team it is often not viable.

What are the Standards for Evacuation Lifts?

First published in 2008 with a revised standard issued in 2017, BS9999 defines the requirements for Evacuation Lifts in the UK. A specific Evacuation lift standard, BS EN81-76, was published in draft form in 2019 but did not make its way to publication. We understand that a revised draft Evacuation Lifts standard is in development and forecast for publication in 2023.

What should happen to a lift when the fire alarm activates

Typically, lifts are not to be used in the event of a fire. Upon activation of the building fire alarm or a manual switch, the lifts should travel to the main exit floor and shut down to prevent their use (as per BS EN81-73: 2018). Some lifts are provided with more than one recall level so that in the event the fire is located at the main exit level, the lift would recall to an alternative level to allow passengers to exit safely.

The fire recall facilities of a building should be regularly checked to confirm they operate as required in the event of an emergency.

Some lifts are specially designed for use by the fire service in their duties, these lifts are refereed to as Firefighters lifts and specifically detailed in their own standard, EN81-72.

Note an evacuation lift is distinct and separate from the standards applied to Firefighters Lifts under BS EN81-72: 2020 and lifts that are not explicitly designed for evacuation should, as a rule, not be used for general evacuation.

Lift design

Some of the key elements which need to be included within the evacuation lift design and operational strategy are:

  • The Evacuation Lift should be provided with a switch clearly marked ‘Evacuation Lift’ and situated next to the landing door (within 2m) at the final evacuation exit level.
  • A suitable fire-protected communication system available to allow the evacuation team to use the lifts safely to evacuate people. Communications should link the lift car and main fire service access level to each landing floor refuge space. (This is not required for two storey buildings)
  • The building design must meet the requirements for fire resistance of the lift shaft, lift machine room, lift lobbies and evacuation refuges.
  • The Evacuation Lift is provided with a secondary power supply from a separate substation or standby generator located in a fire-protected area if used for other fire safety reasons. Reliability of power supplies and circuitry is essential to the continued operation of the Evacuation Lift.
  • Pictogram signage is provided to indicate the evacuation route to the lift.

Use and operation of the lift

On the operation of the Evacuation Lift switch the Evacuation Lift should isolate all car and landing controls and return to the final exit level and park with the doors open. The evacuation management team take control of the lift and follow the evacuation plan. The evacuation management team typically include:

An operator to take control of the lift (via the switch) and manage the evacuation
A designated person to assist people to the lift at their evacuation floor, and coordinate with the operator using the communication system

Where an Evacuation Lift is provided within a building, clear procedures must be put into place with suitable training to implement the evacuation strategy. Regular maintenance and inspection procedures need to be put in place to check that Evacuation Lifts are available for use when required with testing of the switch recommended once a week and a full inspection carried out by a competent person annually. Refresher training should be carried out at suitable intervals for the evacuation team members.

Can an existing lift be upgraded to use for evacuation purposes?

In many cases existing lifts can be upgraded to become Evacuation Lifts, though as the works involved may be significant it is likely to be most appropriate to do this as part of a lift refurbishment or modernisation programme. Certain aspects of the building upgrade may prove challenging in some existing buildings, such as the formation of refuge areas and provision of secondary power, and each situation will require individual assessment.


  • An Evacuation Lift is quite different to a ‘normal’ lift and has special features both of the lift and the building design.
  • Evacuation lifts need to be associated with an evacuation strategy and evacuation management team made up of trained operatives. Training should be regularly refreshed.
  • Evacuation lift facilities should be regularly checked to confirm operating correctly.
  • The requirements for evacuation lifts are likely to develop over the coming years with the planned publication of specific standards concerning their design.
  • The inclusion of Evacuation lift requirements in the London Plan, and by other local authority planning and building control teams, suggest that there will be a greater requirement for them in the future.