West Point Cadets Invent Device to Aid Rescues from the Statue of Liberty's Crown

Cadets demonstrate new rescue device

West Point cadets demonstrate the rescue device they developed for the Statue of Liberty. NPS photo by Kevin Daley.

A climb to the crown of the Statue of Liberty is a memorable experience, but the steep, double-helix steps that wind around inside the statue have long been a point of concern if an injury or other medical emergency should occur. Evacuating a victim through the tight quarters of the twisting, narrow stairway has always posed a challenge for the park's RAT(rope access team.)

The stairs leading up to the crown of the Statue of Liberty were reopened to the public last July 4 after being closed following the 9/11 attacks. The park staff notes, "while access to the crown is generally safe, it was determined that a new system should be in place that would allow emergency responders to quickly and safely remove injured or sick visitors or park staff from the statue’s crown and down the 146-step double helix staircase."

A solution to the problem required some ingenuity and engineering know-how, but cadets from the United States Military Academy were up to the challenge.

The West Point connection was the result of a long-standing friendship between a NPS ranger and an Army officer. When he was a Boy Scout, NPS Ranger Anthony Byrnes-Alvarado, who spearheaded the park’s involvement with the project, met Major Mark DeRocchi, then a cadet at the academy. They stayed in touch and fifteen years later their friendship led to the collaboration.

“Shortly before the crown re-opening, I asked his opinion on evacuation as an engineer,” said Ranger Byrnes-Alvarado. “He was more than willing to give it, but went the extra mile and handpicked two of his best civil engineering students and six others to work on the project, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the result.”

In April 2009, members of the Statue of Liberty National Monument’s Emergency Management Services (EMS) team, eight cadets and cadre from West Point collaborated on the “Statue of Liberty Capstone Project.” The effort was a senior project by West Point’s Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, and the project afforded cadets the opportunity to apply their creative engineering skills to the development of an evacuation system for the Statue.

According to the park staff, "While it was a remarkably simple idea, the design of the device did require some rather complex engineering due to the unusual nature of the double helix staircase. The crown rescue device allows the incapacitated visitor to be placed in a seated position and rolled down the 45 degree-angled stairs on wheels that ride over the railings. The speed of the descent is controlled by two rescuers and can easily move visitors weighing up to 350 lbs down the staircase at a meter per second."

The device was demonstrated at the Statue last week, and is now available for the park's use in case of emergencies. The project got positive reviews from all the groups involved.

“It has been an absolute pleasure working with the National Park Service, and we are very happy to finish this project by delivering a fully functional rescue device that can be used starting today,” said Major Mark DeRocchi, Executive Officer, Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at West Point. “The fact that we are able to assist this national icon to remain open to the public for future generations and perhaps help a visitor in their time of need only makes this project that much more valuable.”

"This project has been a wonderful partnership," said David Luchsinger, superintendent of Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island. “We always want the best experience for our visitors, but unforeseen things happen. The West Point cadets have created a device that enables our rangers to respond faster and more efficiently should a visitor need that level of help."

If you'd like to visit the Statue of Liberty, some advance planning is necessary, especially if you want to make the climb up to the crown. You'll find the necessary information about tickets, reservations and security procedures on the park website.