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April 21, 2022

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How evacuation technology can influence the brain in crisis mode

Crisis psychology refers to how we react in the event of a critical incident such as a fire, terrorist attack, or a natural disaster. Marc Gaunt provides an insight into how evacuation technology, developed in line with behavioural psychology, can be used to influence the brain in crisis mode.


Marc GauntIn the event of an evacuation, escape time can be broken down into four parts:

  • Detection – time for the incident to be identified
  • Alarm time – time to trigger an alert
  • Premovement time – time from detection to occupants beginning to move
  • Travel time – time to reach a safe space.

Sequence of behaviours

Human behaviour is typically seen as the most variable element in an evacuation process. Whilst behaviour can be broken down into three parts of interpret, prepare and act, these actions do not necessarily follow a certain pattern and the process may also be repeated due to uncertainty and ambiguity as the occupants are not fully aware of what has happened.

This can all lead to variability in the time concerned. The typical response of occupants is to try to become aware of the situation and search for information, meaning that the richer and clearer the signals provided in the earlier stage, the faster they are able to act, reducing overall egress time.

Evacuation technology in a crisis

Studies all over the world have published similar findings, indicating that the clearer the signals and instructions received by the human brain, the more likely it is a person will be able to respond quickly to a situation.

Whether through clear audible or visual direction, it is proven that both provide huge benefits in a disaster scenario.

Live voice announcements have been found to have the greatest impact in audio technology, followed by recorded announcements and then sirens/bells.

Liverpool Street Station crowd

Research by the British Standards Association (BSI), shows that those hearing a live announcement take less than two minutes to evacuate a building, while those hearing a recorded message will exit in around four minutes. Those hearing a time signal take more than six minutes to fully evacuate.

Visually, the use of increased avoidance (pulsing) emergency lighting systems provide higher levels of awareness versus static systems and finally adaptive evacuation can also be included within emergency lighting to not only alert occupants but to provide.

Looking ahead

Whether fire, terrorism or natural disaster related, critical incidents are dynamic. What might be a safe evacuation route at one moment, may quickly turn into a route towards increased danger.

Given the nature of psychology to seek information to clarify a situation and the fluid nature of events, it’s likely that in the future different technologies will increasingly be interconnected and dynamic to meet the needs of critical situations.

Once stand-alone systems, fire, emergency lighting and other systems will be interoperable and through this will be able to better prevent incidents, detect them and alert occupants in an intuitive manner.

This article was originally published on IFSEC Global.

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