One of the most important parts of any safety plan is the design of emergency lighting. During many calamitous events that may require evacuation, it is imperative that emergency lighting is clear, operable, and has a backup.

FEMA states the following[1] :

Designate primary and secondary evacuation routes and exits. Have them clearly marked and well lit. Post signs. Install emergency lighting in case a power outage occurs during an evacuation. Ensure that evacuation routes and emergency exits are:
  • Wide enough to accommodate the number of evacuating personnel
  • Clear and unobstructed at all times
  • Unlikely to expose evacuating personnel to additional hazards

Have evacuation routes evaluated by someone not in your organization.

Issues Addressed

Three main issues need to be addressed:

Power Outages

In the event of a widespread power outage, it is critical that our emergency plans function to their highest ability. Preventable fatalities can and have occurred when emergency lighting does not function during an emergency. Meister Consultants Group advocates the use of Solar PV[2] :
  • Solar PV systems can play an important role in the risk management, response and recovery of natural disasters.
  • Solar PV systems can be applied for various uses in emergency operations, such as backup power for shelters, communications, lighting, transportation, or “all of the above” multi-use function on a smaller scale.
  • Emergency preparedness planning should incorporate Solar PV into integrated emergency, climate adaptation and resilience strategies for effective implementation.
  • Public-private partnerships can increase rate of solar PV installation. Through partnerships with municipal governments, many private companies with solar PV technologies donate equipment for public use or provide support services during emergency operations.
  • Solar PV applications with both off-grid and on-grid usability can be cost-effective as well as flexible.
  • Cost, funding availability, multiple benefits, and ease of implementation may be considered as evaluation criteria prior to deciding which solar PV application to use.


Redundancy and fail-safe mechanisms are ways to ensure the proper functioning of the

Source: Balco, Inc.

system when parts of it become compromised. Some are suggesting and using Photoluminescent (PL) technology to provide a glowing path for a critical duration of time to evacuate occupants and navigate stairways during extreme circumstances like total darkness due to loss of power in a multistory building. PL glows through darkness and smoke-filled stairways, allowing first responders to get in and find their way to alleviate the threat and evacuate building occupants in a manner that is safer for everyone.[3]

The benefits of PL include[4] :
  • A luminous path that is intuitive to follow, guiding both occupants and first responders through an otherwise dark enclosure or series of steps to be navigated during an emergency evacuation.
  • A fail-safe glow-in-the-dark source that is dependable even when backup generators or other electrical light sources are out of service.
  • A strategically laid-out egress path that is intended to reduce or eliminate trips and falls on steps, collision with objects that protrude into stairwells, or potentially entering or exiting a doorway that is unsafe or heading in the wrong direction for emergency egress.
  • An illuminated visual identifier that evacuees and first responders can use to quickly identify their current location and direction for egress, exit level location, and availability to roof access for rescue.

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency should not be forgotten when designing the emergency lighting system. The NYC DDC has an extensive publication on energy efficient lighting. It includes the following statements specific to emergency lighting[5] :

Emergency luminaires are those designed to operate when there is an interruption in normal building power. They are often selected from the luminaires providing the general building illumination. In addition to meeting all relevant codes and standards, emergency lights should be located and aimed to orient the occupants to the most direct paths of egress, with the least amount of confusion and glare. Most commonly, emergency luminaires receive emergency power directly from a circuit breaker panel that is connected to an emergency generator, or are powered by individual emergency ballasts. Even if the building does have an emergency generator, DDC may request that some emergency lights also be specified with individual emergency ballasts. These emergency ballasts are designed to operate the lamps for an acceptable length of time, until the building can be vacated and searched, or until normal power is restored. Red-colored testing buttons demonstrating that the emergency ballasts are fully charged, must be visible for inspection from the floor. In the case of custom decorative luminaires, it is often acceptable to locate the testing button in a remote, but visible location. If emergency lights are used for normal space lighting, any controls that dim them or turn them off (for daylight harvesting, pre-set scenes, dimming, etc.) must be wired in such a way that the luminaires revert to full operation in case of a loss of power. Manufacturers of lighting or dimming controls can assist the design team in achieving this configuration. Emergency lights should be capable of achieving the required light levels immediately (in less than ten seconds) after a loss of power. Metal halide or some high pressure sodium lamps may not be able to meet this criterion, so should be specified with auxiliary lamps (typically quartz-halogen) that will initially provide the necessary light level until the primary light source warms up or re-strikes, at which time the auxiliary lamp is automatically extinguished.

The use of Solar PV to power the emergency lighting system does have a number of issues to consider before installing (see the main Solar PV page). PL technology does not add a significant cost and can therefore be used in most circumstances, while energy efficiency is already mandated under PlaNYC.


The techniques described above are applicable to any building required by code to install emergency lighting, as well as any buildings that may have this lighting voluntary installed. Generally most high-rises and public buildings fall under this category.

PL technology has already become well-used throughout the City while Solar PV is getting a new push post-Sandy. The City allocated $20 billion for its resilience plan. The plan includes fortifying its power grid and improving hospital emergency power systems by 2030. The plan also discusses developing best practices related to voluntary utilization of building-mounted solar power systems. Additionally, the City is preparing to install solar-powered streetlights. The City’s community members are envisioning a more resilient city that is powered by solar energy. The City University of New York (CUNY) is leading a push to integrate solar and distributed generation (DG) into emergency and resilience planning and has formed the Smart DG Hub. CUNY is also mapping out the City’s emergency solar potential by estimating kW capacity by each zip code in the city.[6]

Related Reports

FEMA: Emergency Management Guide for Business and Industry
Solar PV Emergency & Resilience Planning
Illuminated Stairway Identification
Manual for Quality, Energy Efficient Lighting


  1. ^ United States of America. FEMA. Emergency Management Guide for Business & Industry: A Step-by-step Approach to Emergency Planning, Response and Recovery for Companies of All Sizes. By Thomas Wahle and Gregg C. Beatty. Vol. 141. [Washington, DC]: Federal Emergency Management Agency, 1993. Print.
  2. ^ Lee J., Chad Laurent, and Christina Becker-Birck. Solar PV Emergency & Resilience Planning. Fact Sheet. N.p.: Meister Consultants Group, 2013. Solar Outreach. US DoE, July 2013. Web.
  3. ^ Cooper, Steve. "Illuminated Stairway Identification." Architectural Record June 2013: n. pag. Print.
  4. ^ Cooper, Steve. "Illuminated Stairway Identification." Architectural Record June 2013: n. pag. Print.
  5. ^ United States of America. NYC DDC. Manual for Quality, Energy Efficient Lighting. New York City: New York City Department of Design & Construction, 2006. Print.
  6. ^ Lee J., Chad Laurent, and Christina Becker-Birck. Solar PV Emergency & Resilience Planning. Fact Sheet. N.p.: Meister Consultants Group, 2013. Solar Outreach. US DoE, July 2013. Web.