Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Stuck in a Box

The New Yorker article Up and then Down tells the sad story of Nicholas White who was trapped in an elevator in New York City’s McGraw-Hill building for forty-one hours. His entire ordeal was caught on security cameras. You can watch the mesmerizing time-condensed video here.

You can see him attempting many escapes in vain. He tries to pry open the doors only to find a brick wall. Being an express elevator, there was no exit from this shaft for many floors up or down. He tried to go for the escape hatch in the ceiling, but it was locked. It is always locked. It exists so emergency personnel can get in, not so passengers can get out. He rang the alarm constantly, but nobody responded. He had no watch or cell phone.

Elevators are a strange invention that we take for granted every day:
Without the elevator, there would be no verticality, no density, and, without these, none of the urban advantages of energy efficiency, economic productivity, and cultural ferment. The population of the earth would ooze out over its surface, like an oil slick, and we would spend even more time stuck in traffic or on trains, traversing a vast carapace of concrete. And the elevator is energy-efficient—the counterweight does a great deal of the work, and the new systems these days regenerate electricity. The elevator is a hybrid, by design.
Elevators are amazingly safe. "In 1998, in the United States, it was reported that of the estimated 120 billion rides per year in the approximately 600,000 elevators in the U.S., 10,000 people wound up in the emergency room because of elevator-related accidents." Of course, many people will recall the recent story of the man who was decapitated by elevator doors. That's another sad story, but uncommon with modern elevators.

Modern elevators, like those controlled by Destination Dispatch, don't even have buttons to press. There is no illusion of control. Did you know that in most modern elevators, the "door close" button doesn't work? Or in a sense, it works like a prayer. "That the door eventually closes reinforces their belief in the button’s power."

Nicholas White was eventually rescued. Although eight security guards were in and out of the control room during those 41 hours, nobody seemed to notice him. Nicholas White never returned to work. He pursued a lawsuit instead. He looks back now and realizes the lawsuit only prolonged his entrapment. He does not blame the elevator any more.

If I'm ever stuck in an elevator that long, I hope I have a copy of The New Yorker with me. Their articles are incredibly long to read. Ok, on second thought, I'd also hope to have my cell phone, a bottle of water, some food, and a porta potty.

1 comment:

Trung said...

that's horrible! there should be some accountability for him being stuck in there for 41 hours! if you ever stuck, make sure to call me as i don't receive text messages anymore :P