Everything you need to know in an elevator emergency

We’ll tell you up front that a stuck elevator happens more often in the movies than in real life, and when it does, it’s very rarely any cause for concern. On the off chance your lift does stall, there are a few key things you can do to get out quickly, calmly, and safely. We’ll tell you everything you need to know and do, as well as what not to do, so that your time in the elevator is nothing more than a passing inconvenience as you go about your day.

Things You Should Know

  • If an elevator is stuck, find and press the emergency call button. Hold it for 2-3 seconds several times. This button is often red with an icon of a bell or phone.
  • Contact emergency services on your phone, if you’re able. If you can’t, shout periodically for aid or bang on the elevator walls.
  • Wait at the back of the elevator, away from the doors, for help. Remain calm, and don’t attempt to pry open the doors or “unstick” the elevator by jumping.
Section 1 of 3:

What to Do

  1. The best thing you can do for yourself if you’re ever stuck in an elevator is to remain calm and keep a level head, which will help you communicate when help comes. It's a sticky situation, but incredibly few people actually die in elevators.[1] What’s more, modern elevators are equipped with a number of fail-safes to prevent a free fall or other serious problems beyond stalling.[2]
  2. A light source helps you identify emergency buttons and get your bearings in the event that the elevator lights or building power goes out. If you don’t have a flashlight, use your phone's camera light or the light from its screen to take stock of your surroundings, but try not to use it when you don’t need it to conserve its battery.[4]
    • Don’t panic if you don’t have a light source—it’s not absolutely necessary to get out of the elevator.
  3. Every elevator has a button that either sends an emergency signal or puts you in touch with a technician, emergency services, or another authority. These are often red with icons of bells, alarms, or telephones. Find this button on the elevator’s panel near the door, hold it for 2-3 seconds several times, and wait for an indication that your message has been received.[5]
    • Note that even if you don’t receive confirmation that your message was sent, it may still have been received by emergency services.
    • These buttons also often send your exact location, including your building and specific elevator, to emergency services.
    • If you cannot see the buttons, systematically press each button one by one to ensure that you press the emergency call button in the process.
  4. If the elevator stopped close to a floor landing, the door may open, creating a possible way out. If it does, step out of the elevator carefully and quickly, making sure you’re not trailing any loose clothing or straps.[6] Pressing the “Door open,” “Door close,” or the button of a floor beneath you may unstick the elevator.[7] If it does, exit quickly when it reaches a safe floor and immediately inform emergency services.
    • Important: If getting out would mean climbing up or down onto the landing, or performing anything more than a quick hop off the elevator, stay put and wait for help. The elevator may unexpectedly begin to move again.
  5. If your phone has service and power, call emergency services and explain your situation. Also, shout for help—someone in the building may hear you and come to your aid. You might also bang on the elevator wall with your hands or a shoe, but only do this if your prior calls for help haven’t been answered.[8]
    • If you have an internet or WiFi connection, message or email several contacts and inform them of your situation. They may be able to contact emergency services if you’re unable to yourself.
    • Note that shouting may result in excess panic, so before you do, take a deep breath and inform other passengers of your intent.
  6. After contacting emergency services, stand toward the back of the elevator, well away from the doors, and wait for help to arrive.[9] This ensures that you’re clear of harm if the fire department or other authorities use force to open the elevator from the outside.
    • Feel free to stand or sit, whichever is most comfortable for you.
  7. In the (very) rare event that the elevator does enter free fall, it’s best to lie flat on your back on the floor, using your hands and any railing to secure yourself there.[10] This orients your body perpendicular to the force of impact and evenly distributes that force, better protecting you from harm.[11]
    • Also, use your arms to cover your head, if possible, to guard against falling debris.
    • All that said, we want to reiterate that a falling elevator is almost unheard of in modern times and is more of an exciting Hollywood idea than a reality.
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Section 2 of 3:

What Not to Do

  1. If the elevator is sealed, don’t attempt to escape it through the ceiling, floor, or other means.[12] Any method of escape apart from assistance from emergency service or other authorities is far more dangerous than simply waiting for help.
  2. If the elevator doors are shut, and won’t open with the use of buttons, do not attempt to pry them open.[13] This can further damage the elevator and worsen the situation. You’re also unlikely to open the doors manually, and may overexert yourself.
  3. Jumping inside the elevator isn’t likely to make it work again, and in fact can make the problem worse.[14] Stand or sit calmly toward the back of the elevator, away from the doors, and wait for help to arrive.
    • Feel free to do some stretches if you’re feeling antsy or restless, but be considerate of other passengers and avoid any sudden or dramatic movements.
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Section 3 of 3:

How long can you be stuck in an elevator?

  1. [15] Especially in busy buildings, other people will notice the malfunction and contact maintenance or emergency services quickly. Many modern elevators also have self-correction features that can identify and fix any detected bugs that cause the doors or elevator to stall.
    • However, depending on your area and the availability of maintenance and emergency crews, it's possible to spend 30 minutes to several hours in the elevator.
    • Note that it’s impossible to run out of oxygen in an elevator. Though it may take some hours for aid to get you out, you’ll be able to breathe fine the entire time.[16]

Community Q&A

  • Question
    What if you don't have a phone or light source and nothing is working. What do you do then?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    First up, stay calm; nothing gets solved in a panic. Try to feel about in the lift, in the usual placement for the button panel. Even in the dark, you should be able to feel the buttons as they have a glass feel to them, the emergency button is usually plastic and sticks out and often has braille markings on it. (There's a picture of the average one in the Made Recently section above.) Keep pressing it and help should arrive at some point. If you have a fear of the dark, take deep breaths and repeat calming mantras to yourself; rescue is on its way.
  • Question
    How long are people normally stuck in a lift for?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    If the building is active, the longest you'll probably be stuck for is about half an hour to an hour. Keep pressing the emergency button till help comes. However, if the building is closed, then you may have a longer wait (an hour or two, up to 8-9 hours at most), depending on where the emergency call goes to. Stay calm with deep breaths and reassure yourself that help is coming; rescuers don't dawdle when they know people are stuck in a lift.
  • Question
    If I'm in an elevator that is 2 meters by 2 meters, how long will it take for the oxygen to be depleted?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    The air in elevators is not sealed in. You can have any amount of oxygen you need.



About This Article

Luke Smith, MFA
Co-authored by:
wikiHow Staff Writer
This article was co-authored by wikiHow staff writer, Luke Smith, MFA. Luke Smith is a wikiHow Staff Writer. He's worked for literary agents, publishing houses, and with many authors, and his writing has been featured in a number of literary magazines. Now, Luke writes for the content team at wikiHow and hopes to help readers expand both their skillsets and the bounds of their curiosity. Luke earned his MFA from the University of Montana. This article has been viewed 182,939 times.
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Co-authors: 19
Updated: November 9, 2023
Views: 182,939