Students, professors are getting stuck in elevators across campus
Middle Eastern Studies Program Director Emran El-Badawi has been teaching at UH for almost eight years. His office is located on the sixth floor of Agnes Arnold, steps away from an elevator he refuses to use.
He stopped taking that elevator last year after he and his son became stuck. He calls the elevator, which is currently out of order, “the death trap” and has helped multiple students who have been stuck in it.
“Years ago, this elevator — maybe four or five years ago — a custodian walked in and he walked out of it and the elevator fell,” El-Badawi said. “It was horrifying.”
The elevators in Agnes Arnold are not the only elevators that will break down and trap people, as students have been stuck in buildings across campus.
“The first time was pretty scary because I pressed the call button on the elevator and it rang but nobody picked up,” said economics and political science freshman Randolph Campbell Jr. “Tried to call UHPD on my phone but couldn’t pick up a signal in the elevator. The call button wouldn’t activate again for a while, but eventually someone from UHPD picked up and sent someone to fix the elevator pretty quickly.”
He has gotten stuck in the Cougar Village II elevators three times since the semester started.
“The other two times were a lot more smooth. UHPD picked up the first time and sent someone to fix it quickly,” Campbell said.
He said he has now decided to stick with the stairs in the dorm.
Campbell and El-Badawi are only a couple of the people who have reported being stuck in elevators across campus. Executive Director of Facilities Services Jeffrey Benjamin said the amount of people who get stuck in elevators on campus is small: just 0.003 percent based on total elevator operating time, or one to two people a month.
“I think that number is low,” El-Badawi said. “I think that number is low because, I mean this has happened to me, this has happened to other people, you get stuck and then you’ll get out on your own. You have to go back down and then you get out. That’s still not a functioning elevator. You’re still getting stuck, you’re still late, you’re afraid, something bad could happen. That happens a lot too, frequently that’s unreported.”
Sport administration senior Kylie Copeland didn’t report her incident of being dropped two floors in an elevator at University Lofts to anyone except the people at the front desk, even though during the fall she thought it may be the end for her, she said.
“Thinking back, I definitely should have told Fix-It or someone else, but I was more in shock of what happened, and I was just ready to leave the building,” Copeland said.
Is it safe?
Elevators have many fail-safes to keep their passengers from falling to their doom, and elevators are some of the safest modes of transportation. Benjamin said UH’s elevators are no different.
“Each elevator undergoes an annual third-party state inspection and certification,” Benjamin said. “In addition, maintenance workers in the elevator shop conduct weekly, monthly and annual preventive maintenance to ensure safe and reliable operation.”
Sometimes the elevators are out of order. They may be fixed with the flip of a switch or may require more intense maintenance, which could take days, weeks or months.
“Our number one goal is to ensure that before an elevator is returned to service, it is working properly and safely. In most cases, problems are corrected within an hour of the report,” Benjamin said. “However, due to the proprietary nature of elevators, on occasion we have to order parts to complete a repair, and this is done as quickly as possible.”
If students do end up getting stuck in elevators that need repairs, they should press the help button and explain to the operator what is happening. They are urged not to press random buttons, jump up and down or try to pry open the door.
When public relations senior Mayra Castillo became stuck in the Welcome Center parking garage two years ago, she and her friend were stuck for about 15 to 20 minutes, she said.
“We had just gotten on the elevator to go to the fourth floor, and it suddenly stopped between the third and fourth,” Castillo said. “I personally got nervous and had to sit down.”
Many of the students who have been stuck in an elevator said they were out in 30 minutes or less, but that time frame is not always guaranteed.
“When we receive a call, we try to respond as soon as is reasonably possible,” Benjamin said. “Response times may vary depending on the circumstances, including but not limited to if the call is made after regular hours, or after Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the elevator cannot be reset or assistance from the Houston Fire Department is required.”
Malfunctioning elevators are not a secret, El-Badawi said. In Agnes Arnold, students and staff both know there is a risk associated with stepping into the lifts.
“I complain to (my students) all the time,” El-Badawi said. “Like, ‘I’m sorry I’m late to class, I was waiting for an elevator.’ Sometimes I was stuck in an elevator, or the elevators weren’t working so I had to take the stairs. My students know. They know from me that the elevators aren’t good, they aren’t functioning. They know as well, it’s not news to them.”
He said when he passes other faculty on the stairs, sometimes they will share a look of acknowledgement or talk about how the elevators are acting up that day.
“It is a major, major problem with us getting our job done, with our lifestyles, with our health,” El-Badawi said.
He said he wishes the University would stop to think about the construction they do around campus while the elevators are still dangerous, but at this point he does not know if there is anything he can do to change the situation.
“That’s just sort of the reality, the lay of the land, us as faculty and students, that being in these buildings, the elevators suck so you have to take the stairs, prepare in advance,” El-Badawi said. “It shouldn’t be that way. I don’t know what the answer is, I thought the answer would be new elevators or new something or the other, but I don’t know.”