by Iovana Borjas
The elevators in Straz Hall are notorious among its residents for getting stuck.
Kathleen Becker, senior public health major and a Resident Assistant (RA) for Straz, has had this experience.
“Last semester, I was stuck for about two hours,” said Becker. “It seemed like there was no protocol in place.”
She used her cell phone to call facilities and ask for help, but they got to Straz 30 minutes later, according to Becker. Another student was in the elevator with her.
The Minaret and Becker were unable to identify the other student involved in the incident.
“They [Facilities] asked us irrelevant questions for about 40 minutes and then they called campus safety,” said Becker. “Nobody knew what to do; campus safety called the fire department for help.”
Becker said campus safety acted with no urgency and that she was grateful neither she or the student she was stuck with had any medical issues. The fire department was able to help her and the student she was stuck with.
Jennifer Isenbeck, director of facilities at UT, acknowledges that Straz’s elevators have had issues since the building was opened in 2003.
“OTIS is our campus elevator preventative maintenance and service contractor,” said Isenbeck. “The Straz elevators are not made by OTIS and I think that presents a challenge when they diagnose or repair them.”
Isenbeck said that there is a protocol in case of elevator entrapment.
“While we do not like to cause alarm due to entrapments, we should train certain groups regarding our protocols,” said Isenbeck.
The protocol has several steps that have to be followed in case of entrapment. The first thing anyone who is stuck should do is use the phone installed in the elevator to call for assistance. The phone calls campus safety, who will then, theoretically, arrive shortly to the scene.
If there is no medical emergency, UT has to wait for an elevator technician to open the elevator.
“Sometimes the elevator can be reset, or it was just a momentary blip, so facilities may have an OTIS technician on site that can be called,” said Isenbeck.
Isenbeck said this is the main reason why it might take some time to get to the scene.
Since campus safety cannot physically open the elevators, all they can do is constantly monitor and maintain contact with the people trapped, according to Kevin Howell, director of campus safety.
“My department would not allow anyone to sit in an elevator for two hours,” said Howell. “But understand, we cannot actually do any extraction because we have no control or expertise over it.”
Isenbeck said that, even though there seem to be a lot of issues with the elevators, the most common one is the control cards installed within them.
Ken Cox, Otis Elevator Company service technician, said the elevators have so many electrical problems that it is hard to find the source of the technical difficulties.
“The brakes in the elevators seem to be the main problem,” said Cox. “Most of the time we have doors that don’t open or unresponsive elevators.”
Isenbeck explains that UT has had some issues with OTIS in the past.
“OTIS has taken elevator number four offline many times without notifying facilities,” said Isenbeck. “That is one of the problems they have to resolve.”
Straz’s elevators have had, according to an OTIS eservice web report, “129 maintenance visits, 22 service calls and 6 repairs” in a year.
In comparison, the Innovation and Collaboration building elevators have had “34 maintenance visits and 4 repairs” during the same time.
In addition to these problems, the permits posted in the elevators have been expired since Aug. 1, 2018.
However, Isenbeck said this is only due to a timing problem.
“The Straz elevators were inspected in January 2019,” said Isenbeck. “However, not soon enough to get the updated Florida certificate of Operation.”
Isenbeck said they have contacted the State to get new certificates for elevators one, two and three. However, they are waiting for elevator four to be fixed before issuing a permit.
Nick Kane, sophomore marine biology major and resident at Straz, said he is tired of the problem.
“I think it’s unacceptable that the elevators break as often as they do,” Kane said. “Especially considering what it costs to live in Straz and what we pay in tuition.”
Iovana Borjas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org