Engineers believe new lift technology could save lives in the event of a terrorist attack on a tall building.
Consultant Arup has developed fireproof and smoke-proof lifts to help occupants of tall buildings escape after a terrorist attack. Engineers believe that they could cut evacuation times by 40% compared with existing escape systems.

The fireproof lifts could be incorporated into designs for the 500 m high World Financial Centre in Shanghai, which is set to be the tallest building in the world.

Arup is in talks with other clients, including Canary Wharf in Docklands, east London, about the possibility of using such lifts to evacuate people.

This technological advance means that lifts could become the best way to clear buildings in a fire.

Peter Bressington, director of Arup Fire, said Arup had been looking at the intrinsic reliability of lifts and the robustness of the lift shafts since the terrorist attacks on 11 September, 2001.

He said he had been looking at the way smoke behaves, how it can be prevented from getting into the lift shaft and how back-up power supplies can be used.

It’s a fool’s paradise to think everybody can get down the staircase

Peter Bressington, director, Arup Fire

He said: "The reality is that it's very difficult to get people out of a tall building if you're only using the staircase.

"We think we can knock 40% off the total evacuation time."

"It is a fool's paradise to think that in a tall building everyone can get down the staircase. People running down 50 flights of stairs will get tired and sit down, and this will block the way for others."

Bressington emphasised that Arup Fire would not recommend using lifts to evacuate burning buildings now. But he said the technology could be put into existing buildings as well as new ones.

He also hinted that the 101 storey Shanghai World Financial Centre building could use the technology. Bressington said: "The building is still on the drawing board; the lift technology could be designed into it."

The technology would probably not be used in buildings that are less than 15 storeys high. It would be likely that there would be a compelling case for using it in buildings of more than 40-storey.

Arup has been analysing the structural integrity of burning buildings, in particular the way that steel beams perform. This is significant because fire resistance is not seen as a design parameter.