By the nature of the device, an emergency light is designed to come on when the power goes out. Every model, therefore, requires some sort of a battery or generator system that could provide electricity to the lights during a blackout. The earliest models were incandescent light bulbs which could dimly light an area during a blackout and perhaps provide enough light to solve the power problem or evacuate the building. It was quickly realized, however, that a more focused, brighter, and longer-lasting light was needed. The latest emergency floodlight provides a high-lumen, wide-coverage light that can illuminate an area quite well. Some lights are halogen, and provide a light source and intensity similar to that of an automobile headlight.
Early battery backup systems were huge, dwarfing the size of the lights for which they provided power. The systems normally used lead acid batteries to store a full 120-volt charge. For comparison, an automobile uses a single lead acid battery as part of the ignition system. Simple transistor or relay technology was used to switch on the lights and battery supply in the event of a power failure. The size of these units, as well as the weight and cost, made them relatively rare installations. As technology developed further, the voltage requirements for lights dropped, and subsequently the size of the batteries was reduced as well. Latest lights are only as large as the bulbs themselves – the battery fits quite well in the base of the fixture.
Emergency lighting is installed in virtually every commercial and high occupancy residential building. The lights consist of one or more incandescent bulbs or one or more clusters of high-intensity light-emitting diodes (LED). The emergency lighting heads are usually either PAR 36 sealed beams or wedge base lamps. All units have some sort of a device to focus and intensify the light they produce. This can either be in the form of a plastic cover over the fixture, or a reflector placed behind the light source. Most individual light sources can be rotated and aimed for where light is needed most in an emergency, such as toward fire exits. Modern fixtures usually have a test button of some sort which temporarily overrides the unit and causes it to switch on the lights and operate from battery power even if the main power is still on. Modern systems are operated with relatively low voltage, usually from 6-12 volts. This both reduces the size of the batteries required and reduces the load on the circuit to which the emergency light is wired.