An emergency exit in a structure is a special exit for emergencies such as a fire: the combined use of regular and special exits allows for faster evacuation, while it also provides an alternative if the route to the regular exit is blocked by fire, etc.
The qualifications for an emergency exit are as follows: it must be in a location that is easily accessible, the exit must have an area or location that it can bring people to in the event of any emergency situation, it must be controlled by the inside of the building, it must be well managed and regularly up kept, and it must be in a permanent location.
It is usually in a strategically located (e.g. in a stairwell, hallway, or other likely places) outward opening door with a crash bar on it and with exit signs leading to it. The name is a reference to when they were frequently used, however, a fire exit can also be a main doorway must be able to be unlocked from the inside of the room. A fire escape is a special kind of emergency exit, mounted to the outside of a building.
Local building codes will often dictate the number of fire exits required for a building of a given size. This may include specifying the number of stairs. For any building bigger than a private house, modern codes invariably specify at least two sets of stairs. Furthermore, such stairs must be completely separate from each other. Some architects meet this requirement by housing two stairs in a "double helix" configuration where two stairs occupy the same floor space, intertwined. For old buildings that predate modern fire code requirements and lack space for a second staircase, having intertwining stairs so close to each other may allow firefighters going up and evacuees going down to use separate staircases.
Knowing where the emergency exits are in buildings can save lives. Some buildings, such as schools, have fire drills to practice using emergency exits. Many disasters could have been prevented if people had known where fire escapes were and if emergency exits had not been blocked. For example, in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, some of the emergency exits inside the building were inaccessible, while others were locked. In the Stardust Disaster and the 2006 Moscow hospital fire, the emergency exits were locked and most windows barred shut. In the case of the Station Nightclub, the premises was over capacity the night fire broke out, the front exit was not designed well (right outside the door, the concrete approach split 90 degrees and a railing ran along the edge), and an emergency exit swung inward, not outward as code requires.
In many countries, it is required that all new commercial buildings include well-marked emergency exits. Older buildings must be retrofitted with fire escapes. In countries where emergency exits are not standard, fires will often result in a much greater loss of life.
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