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DoubleTree by Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore hosted the AGM; photo courtesy of Hilton.

EESF AGM exudes optimism in Tampa.

by Kaija Wilkinson

Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation Executive (EESF) Director Shawn Cowden, who took on the role early this year after holding various positions with the National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) for the past 13, presided over an EESF annual general meeting (AGM) characterized by optimism and positivity. Groundwork laid by former Executive Director Shelly Johnson presented a strong foundation on which Cowden and his team are ready to build. The meeting was attended by representatives of major companies and organizations, and featured at least one newcomer — RailEyes Managing Partner Atif Bhanjee — clearly passionate and enthusiastic about vertical-transportation (VT) safety. Representatives of EESF of Canada (EESFC) attended and shared news of the group’s rebuilding efforts and progress.

The EESF 2020 AGM was held on February 27 at DoubleTree by Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore, which offered a free shuttle to and from the nearby Tampa International Airport. Most attendees arrived on February 26 for the Welcome Reception in the hotel’s Palm Court from 6-8 p.m. DoubleTree is known for providing guests with fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies upon arrival, and the cookies are promoted on almost all DoubleTree materials — shuttle vans, stationery and in the form of cookie decals leading to and from the elevators. Although arguably childish, this last touch provided attendees with an excellent wayfinding tool to and from meeting activities.

Mark Mullins thanked outgoing board members and passed the chairman of the board torch to longtime EESF supporter Cornelius Walls of Formula Systems.

Thanks and Leadership Changes Starting at 8 a.m., breakfast preceded the AGM in the hotel’s Timberwood Room. Greetings, introductions and business cards were exchanged as EESF Program Director Laurie Dueitt handed out materials. Chairman of the Board Mark Mullins, representing the Elevator Industry Work Preservation Fund, called the meeting to order at 9 a.m. As the meeting got underway, Mullins thanked the sponsors for their support, to a hearty round of applause. Mullins then thanked outgoing board members, including Bret Abels, who was unable to attend, and passed the chairman of the board torch to longtime EESF supporter Cornelius Walls of Formula Systems. Mullins swore in Walls. He then inducted the other 2020-2021 officers and board members, including Vice Chairperson Sheila Swett of Swett & Associates; Secretary T. Bruce MacKinnon of Elevator World, Inc.; and Treasurer Jeff Schumacher of Schumacher Elevator. Outgoing board members Teresa Witham and Pat Tobin were thanked for their service and
presented plaques.

Grants in the tens of thousands of U.S. dollars are available, and EESF has hired a grant writer to help that effort, an expenditure attendees agreed is well worth it.

Attendees then introduced themselves. They were, from EESFC, Chairman Gord Pattison of Alberta Elevating Devices & Amusement Rides Safety Association, Executive Director Alison Whittaker of EHC Global and Stephanie Coyne of Ontario’s Technical Standards and Safety Authority; Greg DeCola of Omega Industries; Glenn Duncan of Parts Specialists Inc./Elevator U; Joseph McAnulty of Liberty Elevator Experts; Emerald McGehee of NAESA International; Karen Penafiel of the National Elevator Industry, Inc.; Michael J. Ryan and Matthew Yelland of The Peelle Co.; industry stalwarts Teresa and Doug Witham; Pat Tobin of MEI — Total Elevator Solutions; and your author.

Cowden provided updates on EESF programs — Safe-T-Riders for children, Rise Up Safe Rider for college students and A Safe Ride for senior citizens. Safe-T-Riders, aimed at children ages 4-11, continues to have the widest reach. Cowden shared that Safe-T-Riders:

  • Runs a 60-s video for a total cost of US$50 per day in hosting fees
  • Sees the highest percentage of video views in major cities including NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Toronto
  • Has, since the start of the video campaign, amassed more than 1.7 million views and 11,603 click throughs
  • Had 1,431 Safe-T-Rider page views on eesf.org in 2019
  • Sent packets, which consist of an activity page, sticker, video, teacher comment page and certificate, to educate 7,204 children since the start of the 2019 school year

Certificates give children a chance to talk to their parents about VT safety and what they learned, several attendees observed. A marketing firm has been enlisted to drive traffic to eesf.org, and that effort will continue. EESF plans to bring VT “Safety Ambassadors” back into classrooms to enliven the message and make it more interactive. Little keepsakes like keychains and mini flashlights included in kids’ packets in the past have proven successful, several said, and those efforts should be revisited. “That wouldn’t cost a lot of money, and could even be a sponsorship opportunity,” DeCola said.

The approach to National Elevator Escalator Safety Awareness Week will be revamped, EESF Executive Director Shawn Cowden said.

For Rise Up Safe Rider, suggestions included reaching out to dormitory resident advisors and college students involved in efforts like Camp Kesem, a nationwide program that offers summer camps for children whose lives have been affected by their parents’ cancer. Public service announcements (PSAs) about VT safety, such as instructions on what to do if one is trapped in an elevator, have proven successful at Georgia State University and the University of Georgia, Cowden said. For A Safe Ride, similar PSAs could be shared with nursing homes, and volunteers could help spread the message.

EESF Canada will continue popular fundraisers like the Toronto Harbour Cruise, and a greater emphasis is now on education.

Challenges Remain

Some EESF initiatives have seen less-than-stellar results. National Elevator Escalator Safety Awareness Week, November

11-17, for example, “did not receive any proclamations this year,” Dueitt said. Proclamation request letters were sent to each state governor, but MacKinnon noted the effort is often overshadowed by campaigns such as ones against bullying and drug abuse. Walls asked if delivery of letters could be a problem, and Cowden said that for 2020, letters will be sent in various formats and earlier in the year. Attendees suggested reaching out to AHJs, such as the NYC Department of Buildings and union chapters, because, if it’s not a hot button or it’s an election year, announcements about VT safety awareness might get lost in the shuffle. The approach to National Elevator Escalator Safety Awareness Week will be revamped, Cowden said.

Cowden then shared information about EESF’s operating budget. Fundraisers and donations were the primary revenue drivers in 2019. New angles for 2020 initiatives to increase donations include additional recognition of donors at events like United and a more focused effort on the Workplace Campaign, a payroll deduction program that companies can offer to their employees. Several attendees said they are confident that 2020 fundraising Chairperson Ricia Sturgeon-Hendrick, with her “passion for VT safety,” will prove successful.

Registrations for the 2019 EESF Chicago cruise fundraiser were much lower than anticipated. Cowden noted the 2020 concept is being revamped and will be better promoted on social media. “We’ve got to do something fresh,” Swett said. Care should be taken, she said, so the fundraiser doesn’t coincide with similar Chicago Elevator Association or NAEC events, as it has in the past.

Cowden said that EESF moved into its new office, a smaller coworking space for Dueitt, in August 2019. Cowden is based near the NAEC offices near Atlanta. Administrative expenses for 2019 were minimal, with one of the few expenses being new stationery to reflect the new physical address.
Fundraising efforts throughout 2019 — including golf outings, auctions and raffles — were, in large part, successful. EESF is looking at other ways to boost revenue, such as by moving investments around and pursuing grant money. Grants in the tens of thousands of U.S. dollars are potentially available, and EESF has hired a grant writer to help that effort, an expenditure attendees agreed is well worth it.

MacKinnon said Johnson did an excellent job of maintaining regular email communications, and continuing that will be vital. Although she led the Foundation for only one year, Johnson brought about a focus on transparency, rebuilt its infrastructure and launched a strategic plan that Cowden aims to continue. Highlights of its initiatives are to:

  • Expand the Safe-T-Riders program to also educate preschool-age children
  • Develop new materials for the A Safe Ride seniors program
  • Form national and local partnerships with daycares, schools, safety events, senior organizations, retirement communities, etc. to gain access to both young and senior audiences
  • Expand online/social media campaigns to increase the number of seniors and children exposed to safety messages
  • Find new ways to engage the elevator and escalator community to support EESF’s educational program activities

Potential ways to generate interest were discussed. Several attendees said a “scaled-down” version of the PowerPoint update Cowden presented would be good to share during events like the upcoming United. Walls said a brief report during the General Business Session at NAEC last year “took only 5-10 min and was well-received.” Standalone email blasts and having supporters from various companies volunteer in the EESF booth at various expos were also discussed.

Another tradition Johnson started that Cowden will continue is writing thank-you notes to EESF supporters, who, all agreed, deserve much gratitude. Other ways to recognize them could be “a ‘proud supporter of’ sign at their tradeshow booths,” Walls suggested, or, Swett said, ribbons, stickers or lapel pins.

EESFC Gets Back on Its Feet

Pattison said after experiencing “lots of issues,” EESFC has reorganized and emerged stronger. Bylaws that “hadn’t been looked at since the 1990s” were revamped, and though the Foundation will continue popular fundraisers like the Toronto Harbour Cruise, a greater emphasis is now on education, specifically of children in kindergarten to fourth grade. EESFC set up an informational booth at a prime spot near an escalator at a mall in Calgary recently, he said, educating more than 4,000 children in two days. “It took me all summer going through our records and writing to the government, but now we are fully reinstated as a charitable organization as of September 2019,” Pattison said.

“Allison [Whittaker] did a lot of hard work building us back up.” Per Canadian law, EESFC has software tools to manage its books and has set up a website, eesfc.org.

EESF supporters agreed that, as Walls said, “We need to help our Canadian neighbors” as much as possible. Several hoped to attend the Toronto fundraiser, and a motion was passed allowing EESFC to use EESF’s Safe-T-Rider materials.

The 2021 EESF AGM is planned in Mobile, Alabama, on February 3-4.

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