Things that happened today - lift

Some lifts. Or possible elevators. Image credit:

Today I had a new experience - I got stuck in a lift. I was genuinely trapped in a confined space for some time - long enough to be uncomfortable, but not long enough to need a peeing strategy.

It was quite interesting. And a little bit horrible.

This morning, I got in the lift at work as usual, with a couple of other people. We went up a few floors and they got out. The doors started to close, but something appeared to go wrong - they closed, then opened again.

At that point I should have followed my instincts and jumped out, but I didn't. I regret that decision.

The outer doors to the lift (the ones stopping people falling down the lift shaft when the lift isn't there) then managed to close. The inner doors, the ones attached to the lift itself, almost closed but then opened again. This then happened again. And again.

I then experienced several stages of the 'being stuck in a lift' experience. Here they are.

Stage 1: Denial

At first I didn't think there was a problem. Well, there was clearly a problem, but it was bound to sort itself out. I didn't even bother to press the alarm button - doing so felt like an admission of panic, and there was clearly nothing to panic about yet. I pictured security guards laughing at me for pressing the alarm after only a few minutes.

Stage 2: Acceptance

After about five minutes of the inner doors futilely opening and closing I decided they weren't going to fix themselves and pressed the alarm button. It felt justified now; something was clearly broken and I'd definitely been inconvenienced.

Stage 3: Growing disquiet

After you've been in a lift for a while you start to remember that you're in a metal box suspended by thin cables over nothing but hundreds of feet of empty space. It's unnerving. Adding to this was the fact that no one had responded to my alarm call. I'd pressed the button a few times.

I should at this point describe the conditions in the lift. After I'd pressed the alarm the first time a loud buzzer had sounded, continually. Meanwhile the doors were still futilely opening and shutting, accompanied by a recorded voice informing me that the doors were opening and shutting. And every time this happened the whole lift shook. It wasn't pleasant. I wanted to get out.

Stage 4: Panic or action

Half an hour had now passed. Half an hour of BUZZZZZZ "Doors closing" (shudder) "Doors opening" BUZZZZZZZZ. I'd contacted a colleague through our messaging service who assured me someone was investigating, but no one had appeared or talked to me through the lift intercom.

At this point two options presented themselves. I could start calling for help, or I could try to do something. Strangely, even after half an hour I still felt awkward about making a fuss, so instead I took stock of my situation.

I tried forcing the outer doors open, but they were stuck fast. I could keep the inner doors open to stop them constantly shaking the lift by standing in the doorway or holding down the 'open doors' button, but that didn't get me any closer to getting out.

Sadly, there seemed to be no hatch in the ceiling I could escape from. Where was the tiny air vent that I could crawl through? It seems the movies had lied to me. However, with the inner doors open I could see part of the mechanism that controlled the outer doors. Perhaps I could do something with that?

The solution turned out to be pretty simple. Annoyingly no-one was present to watch me impressively scale the inside of the doorframe, reach into the mechanism above and release the hook attached to the complex wire pulley system that kept the outer doors locked in place. They slid mercifully open, I grabbed my gear and dived out.

A quick flight of stairs and I was at my desk a little more than half an hour after I got in the lift. Apparently, a representative from the our office had been downstairs to notify the building staff that the lift was stuck, and was told there was no problem, despite the fact that the alarm was sounding in the lobby. I'm glad I took matters into my own hands.

If you're ever stuck in a lift, I recommend having the phone number of the building reception already in your phone. Or call me, if you like; I'll talk you through the procedure. If you're a lift designer, please insist on thicker carpets, in the event that people have to sit on them for any length of time. Or a sofa, if possible.


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