EXIT SIGNS, THEN AND NOW – A DECADE IN THE MAKING
Exit Signs, Then and Now – A Decade in the Making
Exit signs are found in various public places from the inside of movie theaters to the outside of stores. These devices must be highly visible for anyone who needs immediate assistance when exiting buildings or vehicles. Most safety codes require that exit signs include emergency lights that work at all times. In the decades before today, these signs only included words; nowadays, you will find signs made with pictures with or without words. Throughout history, there have been plenty of other changes in the design process of exit signs.
Exit Signs Then and Now
In the past, exit signs were made with the word “EXIT” written across the front in red and lit by incandescent bulbs. Many designs came with several defects that included the constant failure of the light during a major fire. Also, the single-bulb devices were difficult or impossible to see through the smoke because the light was not bright enough. Modern signs are more easily visible because the lights are brighter and usually placed on top. Another issue with the old design was the reduced visibility of the exit sign in general. This sign was difficult to tell apart from a regular safety sign. The problem was solved with the increased sizes of letters and the inclusion of backlit words along with separate lights. Also, the building inspectors are required to check the lights before they receive new permits.
Over the years, some exit sign requirements have not changed for the most part. These signs are not found in rooms that contain single exits. Most very large gates and doors are not required to have signs. Most importantly, all signs must have proper illumination that works at all times.
The Change in the Battery Power
Wherever generators were not used, the batteries were used instead. In the past, signs had battery devices that were heavy and expensive. The batteries were used to supply power in case the main sources failed. Modern battery systems are lighter, more energy efficient and simpler to install anywhere. These batteries are already installed in fixtures instead of placed in separate boxes. Over time, the average battery life has increased as well.
A Change in the Lighting
Even though early exit signs were made with large letters, the bulbs usually looked dim under normal conditions. Over the decades, people started switching to fluorescent and light-emitting diode (LED) lights. These lights were brighter, used less energy and increased visibility through smoke. Also, the lifespan was extended by at least 10 years, so the replacement needs were reduced. In addition to fluorescent and LED options, there are phosphorescent signs that make use of glowing phosphors and radioluminescent signs that use radioactive decay to provide illumination.
The industry of manufacturing emergency lights and signs is not the same in every country in the world. International signs are made with different colors, pictures and words, but there are several similarities. Most countries make signs that mainly include pictures.  In the U.S., exit signs are made with indicators that point to the exits. In older buildings, these modern designs are not guaranteed to be found. The building owners are obligated to install new signs where needed. Many modern signs are made with the word “EXIT” and a picture of an arrow or a man running. These signs include emergency lights with backup sources derived from a generator or uninterruptible power supply (UPS). It is easier to replace incandescent lamps with LED ones designed to save energy.
Colors and Words
In most countries in the developed world, the emergency exit signs include green coloring. The red color is used to show restricted behaviors like stopping. Also, many countries follow ISO standards that were made in the ‘70s and became adapted for international usage in 1985. These signs include the green color and “the running man” pictogram that is now common in many European countries. The wordlessness means that all people understand the message of the sign, regardless of their native language.
Many people do not understand why Americans do not adapt the pictograms that are universally known. American signs are more likely to contain words and less likely to contain pictures or symbols. The signs are designed to cater to English-speaking natives. However, as America becomes more diverse, it is becoming more sensible to use pictograms in signs. Regardless of the color, the pictogram tells people how to react in an emergency. As a result, the battle between words and pictograms in signs has been brewing for at least 25 years now.
Over the years, the making of emergency signs and lights has changed dramatically. The new standards are made to fit advancing technologies and the changing tastes of people in different countries. However, the desire to protect people in buildings and large outdoor areas is the same everywhere. Fire is one of the most destructive forces that break out anywhere and at any time. Most building owners want to protect their property investments, while regular people want to protect their lives. Local, state and federal leaders are required to create sign designs that are appropriate for everyday life. These signs must include clear pictograms and bright lights that are visible from long distances. That is why for decades, a great amount of consideration has been made to create exit signs.