Accounting for human behaviour in emergency response

By Garry Kwok, National Technical Services Manager at Wormald

Wormald - fire safetyEmergency response is not immune to the idiosyncrasies of human behaviour.  Regardless of how much training is provided, it is almost impossible to predict how an individual will respond to an actual emergency, whether it is a fire, earthquake, natural disaster or accident.

While computational and engineering tools are necessary requirements for designing a building’s evacuation routes, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology has found these tools often fail to fully consider the impact of human behaviour.

Building and facility managers should consider how human drivers can affect the safe response to an emergency. This involves being mindful of the cognitive drivers that influence how long it may take occupants to begin evacuating the building and what exit route they may choose.

According to a study conducted  by the Mailman School of Public Health, which examined the evacuation decisions of the September 11th World Trade Centre tragedy, this may include factors such as an individual’s perceived ability to exit the building, previous evacuation experience, permission to leave and the information available to make a decision. Research also shows an evacuation decision is influenced by group dynamics. In a fire emergency, staff are more likely to follow their respected colleagues.

Business and facility managers should consider the following to help encourage safer behavioural responses in the event of an emergency:

  • Regularly practice fire emergency evacuation procedures. This can help to create the ‘past experiences’ staff will draw on in the event of a real emergency and reduce the chance of staff reverting to potentially unsafe, familiar exits.
  • Consider how information will be made available. Ensure you are ready to disseminate information quickly and accurately when a fire alarm sounds. Whether it is through signage or fire wardens, or a combination of both, making information accessible, easy to understand and highly visible can speed up evacuation.
  • Appoint a respected fire warden. With group dynamics at play, staff are more likely to follow the directions of a respected, informed fire warden who can command attention and direct large groups of employees.

Fire safety training is a necessary part of fire protection planning. Integrating these steps into the training process can help improve efficiency in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Wormald offers a range of fire safety training courses that can help equip your business to respond to the behavioural variables of a fire emergency.  For details visit the Wormald website.

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