ORLANDO-The Florida Legislature has signed the Emergency Elevator Access Key legislation into law, making the state only the third in the country to have such a building-related safety code. New York and Massachusetts have similar legislation on the books. BOMA Florida helped draft the law.

Triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC, Florida firefighters demanded and received authority for unobstructed access to thousands of high-rise and mid-rise buildings over five stories in the state’s 67 counties.

A single master key for each of seven newly established districts will open elevator doors that will allow firefighters access to upper stories in office and government buildings, condominium and apartment towers and hotels. “It’s not a precedent-setting law but we think other states will follow” once they study how Florida’s legislation is working, Bert Locke Jr., a senior real estate manager in asset services at CB Richard Ellis Inc.’s local office, tells GlobeSt.com. Locke co-chairs BOMA Florida’s Government Affairs Committee.

“The original plan was to have a single master key open elevators in any multi-story building in the state,” Bert says. “But that became impractical when you consider how many different makes of elevators there are and the possibility of a single key not being able to open every elevator.”

Locke says his committee, and even Florida lawmakers, “have no idea yet” how many buildings will have to comply with the new law. “It’s a very large number when you consider the number of condo buildings alone in Miami and Orlando,” he says. BOMA Florida has been working on the project for three years.

“The problem for firefighters was not getting into the building, but getting to the upper stories of a building through elevators that might or might not have keys left in boxes for them to use,” says Locke.

The law goes into effect July 1 and applies immediately to all new construction. Existing buildings have three years to comply, unless the building is undergoing a substantial renovation. “The definition of substantial renovation is pending clarification,” Locke says.

Buildings not in compliance after the three-year deadline will not receive their elevator certificates and may face additional fines. Locke says BOMA Florida “was instrumental in having the permit fee related to the keyway alteration waived.”

Each elevator key could cost a minimum $300. “If you have a multi-story building with a dozen elevators, the retrofitting costs could start to run up,” Locke tells GlobeSt.com.

The state fire marshall will define the keyway system to be used in each of the seven districts. “The legislation encourages the use of new technology as it is or becomes available,” Locke says.

BOMA Florida is also working with the federal Office of Homeland Security “to explore the opportunity the retrofit may be eligible for reimbursement under their grant provisions,” he adds.

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