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Space Needle tests new technology in elevators to find out more about virus-fighting technologies

Seattle Space Needle: An elevator takes you to the top. (GeekWire Photo/ Kurt Schlosser).

60 years ago, The Space Needle opened with futuristic architecture. Today, inside the Seattle landmark, the Needle remains focused on the future. The Needle uses technology to help address health problems beyond COVID-19.

Population, a San Francisco-based startup has purchased The Needle’s far-UVC device. It can be attached to ceilings and walls for companies to eradicate harmful bacteria. Far-UVC systems are proven to reduce transmission of infectious diseases, according to a study that was done earlier in the year.

The Needle is testing Population’s tech in one of its three elevators, which take about 45 seconds to get from the ground to the upper observation deck, and where people are obviously prone to be in close proximity to one another. This solution is expected to prevent the Needle having to adjust later.

They are used in combination with an aggressive fresh water approach. Joel Dazey is the special project manager of the Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass. He said that the elevators make one air change every minute as opposed to 1.5 to 3 per hour.

“In some areas, we have better air changes than your average hospital public areas,” Dazey said.

Far UV-C light from Population is used to fight airborne pathogens in one of the Space Needle lifts. Space Needle Photo

Needle officials spent $1M on various devices that could be used to remove harmful viruses from the air and surfaces in July 2020. This was four months after they closed at the beginning of the pandemic. Cleaning technology was purchased to allow the attraction, which boasts 600 foot-high views, to get back in business.

Nearly three-years after the start of the pandemic, much has been learned.

“Back in the early COVID times, we basically wanted to implement this Swiss cheese approach,” said Dazey. “We purchased some of everything. We didn’t know exactly how well it would work, but we figured that spending the money was worth it from a health perspective.”

Some of that “everything” included far-UVC “sanitizing” body scanners at the front gates; electrostatic disinfectant sprayers for surfaces; and a portable UV-C light machine on wheels to zap bathrooms. He called those days the “Wild West of sanitation hardware.”

“Now we’re on to a more targeted, intentional approach,” Dazey said, expressing confidence in what’s known about far-UVC light — both in its ability to kill pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2 and its safety around people.

Sign on the window of a Space Needle elevator in 2020. (GeekWire Photo/ Kurt Schlosser).

Something’s working, at least when it comes to attracting visitors.

A spokesperson for the Space Needle stated that it has returned to 90% pre-pandemic attendance. However, safety is always a top priority for the roughly 100 people who are on the site each day.

“The pandemic has shown us that cleaner, safer, healthier air in our buildings need to be a priority, and if those benefits can extend to reducing sick days for a company, we have a win,” Megan Groves, CEO and founder at Population, said in a statement.

Joel Dazey was the Space Needle’s special project manager. (LinkedIn Photo)

Dazey, whose job usually involves performing a mix of research, development, and implementation of hardware and software for the Needle, said he’s spent a good deal of his time since COVID arrived “collecting brains.” By that he means finding and bringing in people who know how to Aerosolized and pathogenic diseases can be combated or workplaces must take the appropriate steps.

Martin Cohen is one of those people, as a professor in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington.

Cohen worked closely with Dazey early in the pandemic and brought a class he was teaching — hazard recognition in industry — to the Needle.

“We go to different work sites and see what hazards there are and what controls there are,” Cohen said. “I decided to take them to the Space Needle to see what one company has done to reopen successfully after COVID first struck.”

He said the Needle has been very flexible in terms of figuring what technology wasn’t working and getting rid of it. And they aren’t just worried about COVID, but about other current viruses (influenza, norovirus, etc.) They are also concerned about the ones yet to be discovered.

“The Space Needle, aside from being futuristic looking, they really try to be futuristic in their approach to operating,” Cohen said. “They’re really interested in being on the leading edge.”

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