Japan is currently considering a measure that would, essentially, turn every elevator into a port-a-potty. According to a report from the Kyodo news agency, the country’s infrastructure ministry might make plumbing and running water a must in elevators. 

The proposal may seem over-the-top at first—what, you can’t wait til you get to your floor?—but the move would be in the interest of public safety. Japan is a dense country with a lot of skyscrapers, in a region notorious for its earthquakes. Last week, a powerful quake hit just off the coast of Japan near Tokyo, and 19,000 elevators slid to a stop in the aftermath. People were trapped in 14 different elevators across the capital, and it took as long as 70 minutes to rescue them. 

Image Credit: Shaunacy Ferro, iStock


But getting trapped for a little more than an hour isn’t the worst case scenario. In 1999, a man got stuck in an office elevator in Manhattan for an entire holiday weekend, spending a harrowing 41 hours stuck in a closed steel box without access to water or a bathroom. There are about 150,000 elevators in Tokyo, and historically, they tend to stop during earthquakes. In 2005, an earthquake stopped 64,000 elevators. In 2011, a quake trapped people in 84 elevators for more than nine hours before emergency personnel could get to them. One Tokyo neighborhood has already begun testing emergency boxes for elevators that contain blankets and water, with the boxes themselves doubling as makeshift chamber pots

Earthquakes are an ever-present danger, but people who live and work in high-rises can’t just up and stop using their elevators. As buildings get taller and taller, it’s not a bad idea to start planning for what happens when elevators malfunction, trapping people inside for hours or days. In an emergency, access to sanitation and clean water are essential. So yeah—bring on the vertical toilet mover. 

[h/t: Washington Post via Smithsonian]