Commercial building's elevator restricts access to lobby. Crazy right?
January 14, 2014 4:07 PM   Subscribe

I work in a 6-story office building. Outside of normal hours, you can get on the elevator in an upper floor, but it won't let you out in the lobby (requires keycard). You can take the stairs down all the floors to the lobby. I have been told that this is a building requirement that cannot be changed. But I'm perplexed by the logic. If I'm already on an upper floor, I am in a more-secure area than the lobby. Shouldn't I be able to access the lobby freely? Especially since I can access the lobby freely from the stairs.
posted by reeddavid to Grab Bag (16 answers total)
If you take the elevator down to the lobby, someone could be waiting there to hop on without having access to, e.g., the stairs (they're locked from the lobby, I'm guessing?) or the elevator (if it requires a keycard to call). If they get on, when the elevator gets called again, they'll have access to an upper floor.

Basically, they're preventing the elevators from going to the lobby at all.

Of course, if outside of business hours you can call the elevator from the lobby without a keycard, then it makes no dang sense that I can see.
posted by supercres at 4:15 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

They may just be intentionally slowing you down, to have a better chance at stopping people will goods/data from exiting expediently.

FWIW, we had a similar set of rules when I was mall security, since an office tower with Canada Customs was connected to the building.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 4:24 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Every building I've ever worked in has controlled access to upper floors after hours by requiring a keycard either *inside* the elevator in order to select that floor, or in a small vestibule on the upper floor itself.

This sounds dangerous and my kneejerk reaction is that it might be a violation of a fire code. How would a handicapped person who has misplaced her keycard exit the building at night?
posted by telegraph at 4:25 PM on January 14, 2014 [11 favorites]

I also work in a six-story commercial building that requires keycard access to the lobby after hours, but that's only to get into the lobby from outside the building, not from the elevator. That does indeed strike me as ridiculous, though it is a security loophole as supercres describes. Is there a business or office in your building that would require such security? For the most part, keycard access isn't meant to be super secure, since there are so many ways around it (hitching a ride with an elevator being called to the secure floor, slipping in along with someone with keycard access, getting into the stairwell, etc.). It's mostly just a deterrent to keep random people from wandering around willy-nilly.

This sounds dangerous and my kneejerk reaction is that it might be a violation of a fire code. How would a handicapped person who has misplaced her keycard exit the building at night?

I second telegraph. If you bring it up with building management, I'd suggest taking this accessibility/safety issue route rather than "this rule is ridiculous." Look it up in your jurisdiction's relevant building/safety code.
posted by yasaman at 4:49 PM on January 14, 2014

Could this be a way to keep people from stealing massive amounts of stuff at night when nobody is around?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:53 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sounds mostly like badly programmed security. I think that whoever told you that "this is a building requirement that cannot be changed" is using that as an excuse when the reality is "I have no idea and your question is revealing my lack of knowledge so I will retreat under cover of 'building requirement'"

In similar circumstances in the past I used to take the elevator to the second floor and the stairs from there to the lobby.
posted by vapidave at 4:58 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Makes little sense. I worked in a 10 story building and could get out at the lobby via elevator. One could also get out to the stairs, but not back in without a keycard, except for an outside door at the bottom.
posted by theora55 at 5:05 PM on January 14, 2014

Elevators aren't a means of egress - see International Codes Council, which writes the Life Safety Code, NFPA 101. You may have noticed the signs on the elevators stating to not use them in case of fire. There are very good reasons for this, explained in the link.

For mobility impaired folks, an area or areas of refuge are provided - one common one is an extra large landing at the top of a flight of egress stairs (so don't stack junk there!). The idea is that the emergency responders will come up the fire stairs and get the person out before the space becomes uninhabitable. There are also push button notifiers that will let the person notify the responders where they are, though I'm not real familiar with their requirements.
posted by rudd135 at 5:16 PM on January 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

I had to read this a few times for it to even make sense. By which i mean for me to understand what they had done. It still doesn't make actual sense.

In several buildings i've regularly visited/worked at/rented space at/etc that had some sort of keycard jazz going on it worked like this.

Entering: go in lobby, call elevator, board elevator, use card/enter keycode, select floor.

So at yours, does it not require a keycard to select a floor, but to board the elevator?

Because the entire logic of not allowing you to go to the elevator without a keycard because someone could tailgate back into the elevator and go up is moronic. They'd just wait for someone to come out of the elevator, and end up taking the stairs back down.

This is false security/security through obscurity moron logic. Absolutely attack this from the accessibility angle. An elevator isn't an emergency exit, but it probably is an ADA requirement and not being able to leave without a keycard like this is moronic and possibly even against it.
posted by emptythought at 5:31 PM on January 14, 2014

This is not a safety issue. As Rudd noted, elevators are not part of building safety plans. In fact, building safety plans often require the elevator be shut down.

Therefore, the rule has to more of an administrative issue.

Let me understand: So, you can not access the elevator from the lobby at all during the night? You say that you can not exit in the lobby, but can you call and enter the elevator from the lobby. Generally, when you lock out a floor on an elevator, you lock out the entire floor, stopping people both exiting and entering there. Is this how it is?

The issue might be more about not wanting people to ENTER the building at night. When the maintenance man leaves at the end of his 9-to-5 shift, he can lock out the lobby from the elevator, and then the building is secure. You can't enter because the elevator and stairs are locked. But, if you are inside, you can use the elevator on the upper floors and exit the building via the staircase, going out through the self-locking fire doors.
posted by Flood at 5:40 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

My building works like how you think, keycard to get to the upper floors, no keycard to leave. I also don't understand the logic in your building. Sorry, nothing to add, just agreeing.
posted by TheAdamist at 6:08 PM on January 14, 2014

Aren't there any people with mobility issues who ever work after hours? There are tons of people with canes and walkers and such at my building... They're not even old, just disabled in one way or another.

If they couldn't take the elevator down to the lobby and get out...i just had to scroll up and read your question like a 5th time even after reading everyone else's replies.

This makes no sense. It can be changed. It's just programming.

How bizarre.
posted by sio42 at 7:15 PM on January 14, 2014

It is possible for you to simply request to be issued a key card if you frequently work after hours? I used to work in a building similar to yours, but anyone who actually worked there could just get a key (in our case, it was a physical key rather than a card).
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:35 PM on January 14, 2014

That's really kinda weird - I work in a tall building with the exact-opposite security (keycard gets you up, but WITHOUT one, you can only go to the lobby).
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:36 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hey I have a weird circumstance where this would actually make sense!

I worked in a building with an elevator with fob access on weekends. The lobby area was locked with a metal gate in the evenings and the stairs up from the lobby were locked with another metal gate.

One night I tried to leave after hours and forgot the gate would be locked, at which point I discovered that the elevator is the ONLY WAY OUT of the lobby in this situation (there was also a glass door into a neighboring shop that I probably could have broken into if there were flames licking at my feet). Fortunately I had my fob with me so I went back up to the second floor and took the emergency exit. A friend of mine was not so lucky! He was trapped in the lobby without his fob. Fortunately there were still people up in the office who he was able to call them to come get him in the elevator.

Probably this is not the case in your building? But my building could really use your elevator program.
posted by mskyle at 5:18 AM on January 15, 2014

Nobody is going to be able to explain the logic here except for the people who codified this. And in many cases places end up with security policies because someone had a hair-brained concept and nobody is interested in thinking logically about it. "You know, for security!"

That said, I can think of two barely passable reasons for this. One is mentioned by people above: if you're not concerned about mobility challenged folks then you are somewhat effectively preventing removal of large quantities of things. I'm not sure how worthwhile this is in the modern era where many of the high-value/easy-to-fence items in an office building are small (laptops, tablets, information on USB sticks) but it keeps someone from wheeling out a copier, I suppose.

The other is that it prevents people from getting into the elevator when someone else gets out. The sensible solution there is to prevent someone from picking floors w/o a keycard, though I guess someone could just skulk in there till someone else calls the elevator. Also pretty easily defeatable with minor security measures (don't move the elevator w/ someone in it in response to a call).

If these are valid concepts (which I am not sure they are; only mskyle's reason sounds good) then the only justification for them I can think is if the exit from the stairway has some sort of alarm/access tracking that the elevator does/can not.
posted by phearlez at 9:37 AM on January 15, 2014

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