When the World Trade Center towers were hit on 9/11/2001, we learned some excruciating lessons about getting people out of a burning and structurally damaged high rise. We learned that the fire stairs that are, theoretically, available to evacuate people, can fail in many ways as they fill with smoke, become blocked by disabled individuals trying to make their way down or by people assisting them. The stairs can also collapse or be blocked by rubble. And the doors to the stairwells can disappear into the flames, fumes, and confusion. Even when the fire stairs do remain intact, they don’t work well when emergency crews with bulky equipment are trying to struggle UP the stairs against a flow of panicked building occupants who are fleeing DOWN.
The 9/11 disaster at the World Trade Center won’t be the last one in a high rise structure. Possibly (though I hope with all my heart I’m wrong) not even the last terrorist attack.
Let me describe our proposed solution, the Highrize Lifeboat. As always, comments are appreciated or, at least, tolerated.
DOPEY LOOKING. BUT IF IT SAVES YOUR BUTT..
Our “Lifeboat” (see illustration at top) has a cabin that can carry approximately 10 people from an upper floor to the ground or can carry rescue personnel and equipment from the ground to an upper floor. It is operated by a cable from the roof since the rails of an exterior elevator could twist or be blocked by debris. That’s why elevators aren’t used during a fire.
The Lifeboat is controlled by trained rescue personnel with a wireless remote control console. This allows them to board it and bring themselves and their equipment to the impacted area as well as remove victims FROM the area.
THE “RAPPEL KICK”
The “High Rise Lifeboat” moves vertically, rolling over the surfaces of the exterior wall on its roller/tires. Obstacles such as cornices or protruding beams are “hurdled” by thrusters (actuators) in the roller/tire assembly. The thrusters push off like a mountain climber would while rappelling down a mountain face, kicking out with his/her legs to swing out and past obstacles during the descent.
TRAVELING ALONG THE BUILDING FACE
Moving the cabin vertically along the face of a building that has suffered severe damage can be tricky. First of all, a suspended cabin without a rail system can be unsteady as people and things move around. So the cable mount has load sensors and a way to adjust its point of contact, thus keeping the cabin properly vertical.
Also, there may be thermal updrafts from the heat of a fire and debris can rain down. These are, obviously, horrendous circumstances. So how do you keep the cabin stable so that it doesn’t spin uncontrollably? A ducted fan forces the Lifeboat against a set of roller/tires (each side) which “ride” the wall of the building. This stabilizes it during its journey.
STEERING AROUND OBSTACLES
Sensors and cameras warn of obstacles that would impede vertical travel. Where necessary, the wheels can “steer” around an obstruction (within the limits of its cable suspension) . This, in combination with the “Rappel Kick” maneuver described above, gives the Hirize Lifeboat a good set of obstacle avoidance tricks.
Rescue “docking” is achieved when the roller/tires “retract” (the cabin slides itself along the horizontal strut on which the rollers are mounted, thus allowing the cabin to come into contact with the wall surface). The horizontal pressure of the fans holds the cabin in place for safe boarding operations.
The proposed system could also have a role in building maintenance. Window washing and such.