Modernizing elevators can be a complicated process. Building codes in B.C. now require all new and upgraded elevator systems to be interconnected with the building’s fire alarm systems. So, when a B.C. hospital recently needed nine high-traffic elevators upgraded, working within the constraints of a hospital setting compounded these challenges.

In the case of this busy urban hospital, doctors, nurses and other staff constantly use the elevators to move themselves and patients quickly from floor to floor. This meant elevator downtime had to be carefully planned to minimize the impact on patients and core hospital work. The elevator system upgrades also had to be designed to work within the facility’s existing electrical systems, which carry multiple sensitive loads that power, for example, operating rooms and life-critical equipment. In addition, the upgrades included replacing an automatic transfer switch, which switches the elevators’ power system to the hospital’s own backup power supply in the event of local BC Hydro power failures.

Primary project consultant GUNN Consultants brought Prism on to help.

“The unique thing about this project was that it required so much more electrical review and work than most elevator modernization projects because of the hospital’s complicated electrical systems,” says David Joo, Electrical Engineer and Associate at Prism Engineering and our in-house service area lead for fire alarms.

Prism designed the electrical distribution for the nine new elevators and its interconnection with the hospital’s fire alarm system. We also upgraded the automatic transfer switch so that the elevators could receive emergency alarm signals, and updated the elevator machine room with an electrical feed to the new elevators, new LED and emergency lighting, cooling units, and a fire alarm interconnection.

Unlike many other elevator upgrade projects we’ve worked on, the hospital didn’t require a fire alarm upgrade, as it had been upgraded only a few years prior.

With careful work scheduling to limit impacts on hospital personnel and patients, the nine elevators, their systems and the elevator room were successfully upgraded to code.

Read more of our elevator–fire alarm system modernization case studies here.

The elevator–fire alarm system connection

British Columbia’s aging building stock means an increasing number of elevators are due to be replaced, and building codes now require that new and upgraded elevators be connected with building’s fire alarm systems.

“We often get feedback from clients looking to modernize their elevators who say they hadn’t known they also had to upgrade their fire alarm systems,’” David says.

Interconnecting building elevator and fire alarm systems is a major life-safety requirement. A properly connected modern fire alarm system automatically signals the elevators in the event of a fire in the building. Upon receiving the signal, the elevators are programmed to bring everybody already inside the elevator down to the main level, open the doors, and remain open.

Newer addressable fire alarm systems identify which fire alarm device in the building was initiated and respond accordingly. Specifically, if a smoke detector in the ground-floor elevator lobby is triggered, the system instructs the elevator controller to stop on an alternate floor to avoid the fire.

Prism’s approach to elevator modernization

Every year, our electrical team completes up to 20 elevator modernization projects with fire alarm elements. With key partner GUNN Consultants, we have completed close to 100 projects to date in residential, commercial, industrial, healthcare and education buildings.

Our approach to elevator modernization involves reviewing the fire alarm systems and designing needed upgrades. We review and design electrical systems to suit new elevators, including replacing power feeders and cables, specifying the proper electrical protection for the elevators’ motors, and making sure the code requirements are met.

Working with elevator consultants and contractors, we also offer full fire alarm upgrades and elevator interconnection, Dedicated Detection Recall System implementation (Vancouver), and electrical work associated with complying with CSA B44 Elevator Modernization requirements.

In addition, we check and design updates to the machine rooms where the elevator equipment is housed so that it meets building code requirements. This often means improving the room’s lighting, upgrading the elevator’s electrical grounding system so that it is GFI rated, and replacing the disconnect switch to the elevator.

Read more about Prism’s approach to fire alarm upgrades here.

We can help

Is your building due for an elevator upgrade, but you’re not sure what may be involved? Email our in-house service area lead for fire alarms, David Joo, at