Preparing for Safety in High-Rise Communities

Preparing for Safety in High-Rise Communities
Fire safety roof of community association

by Angela Williams Duea (in collaboration with BOSS Corporation)

Protecting the communities we serve is a priority, and board members and property managers play an important role. The City of Chicago requires buildings to have several safety features to protect people in an emergency, including an elevator recall and stairwell door unlocking. In a fire, it is dangerous for residents to escape by elevator. When a fire alarm is activated, the feature recalls all elevators to the floor containing the fire safety system where controls are typically located. The fire department can set up and work from there, and take control of the elevators.

The City of Chicago requires building stairwell doors to unlock automatically from both sides during an alarm. This has several benefits in a fire emergency, It prevents people from being locked in the stairwell, lets tenants and occupants move safely throughout the building in case they cannot evacuate, and allows first responders to fight the fire and rescue residents.

Many buildings also have One Way Communication Systems to let firefighters and authorized personnel quickly communicate with occupants in either the entire building or to specific areas. It’s the safest and most efficient way to instruct people what to do during an emergency. In a fire situation, for residential buildings, this would be shelter in place unless the fire is in your unit. Do not self-evacuate unless you are told to do so, or are confronted with the emergency; smoke coming under the door of your unit is not considered immediate danger, a fire in your unit is.

Residents also have a role in keeping their communities safe; in fact, they have a role to play that property managers and staff usually cannot fill. To be most useful, though, residents must be prepared. The following suggestions help to keep the community safe and prepared for emergencies.


  • Review your building’s evacuation procedures and participate in your building’s safety programs. Attend the next safety seminar and ask for the occupant’s emergency guide.
  • Make sure you know where the building’s emergency exits and emergency equipment like fire extinguishers are located, and know how to use it.
  • Have an emergency plan and a kit with supplies like flashlights, water bottles, and first aid supplies.
  • Know your building; walk your stairwells before the emergency at least once to make sure there are not crossovers, twists, or turns when evacuating that may confuse you. Ensure you are familiar with other floor layouts in case you have to get off on a floor you are unfamiliar with.
  • Know what your stairwells are called and the direction they are closest to (North, South, East, West, etc.)
  • Talk with your building staff and make sure you understand how they will mitigate emergencies and get the emergency message out to you.
  • Download helpful smartphone app like those that can help with CPR. Many buildings also have programs and apps that can communicate via push notification, and allow residents to report emergencies and mark themselves safe.
  • Have a plan for your pets. Typically, you should not bring them with during an large evacuation if it is called for, even if you can carry them or if they are considered more tame than others; you cannot anticipate their reaction to a fire in a stairwell and they can stop the flow of egress if people are behind you.
  • Understand that your doors must close and latch; do not prop them open. They also must have a door closer or spring hinge on them to ensure they close by themselves.
  • Do not place items in the common area. They can add fuel to a fire and cause obstructions.
  • Never place items within 18 inches of a sprinkler head and never tamper with them or hang something by them.
  • Ensure locks and gates work properly and that the property remains secure. Don’t hold the door for a stranger if it leads to a secured location.
  • If you see abandoned vehicles or suspicious persons, report it to the police or security guard.
  • Keep an eye out for unattended packages or bags and do not watch or hold bags for strangers.