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Testing communication strategies to save lives in emergency evacuation

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EVACUATION (Testing communication strategies to save lives in emergency evacuation)

Reporting period: 2018-03-01 to 2020-02-29

Background. The EU urgently seeks to improve emergency evacuation preparedness. EU public spaces are getting more crowded. Fires and terrorist attacks require emergency evacuation. Faster evacuation from public buildings during emergencies saves more lives. Observations of actual emergencies show that people tend to be slow to respond to evacuation alarms (taking up to 10 minutes) and take the familiar route out instead of the nearest exit. The EU calls for evidence-based recommendations for evacuations, which are mostly non-existent. The state of the art uses computer models of evacuation speed, but more realism is needed.

Objectives. We took the novel approach of combining state of the art computer modeling with insights from risk communication to improve speed and survival in emergency evacuations. This project aimed to:
1. Identify which risk increasing behaviors occur in emergency evacuations and underlying causes (WP1).
2. Use models to identify communication strategies that improve evacuation time and survival (WP2).
3. Test communication strategies for improving evacuation time and survival in experiments (WP3).
Method. To ultimately save lives, Aim 1 involved (a) observing risk increasing behaviors and emergency communication strategies in 126 existing videos of actual evacuations, and (b) interviewing 10 emergency service members about their experiences in actual evacuations. Aim 2 involved using ‘agent-based’ computer modeling (ABM), with which the Fellow has experience, to assess the effect of reducing the riskiest behaviors on evacuation time and survival rates.

Outcomes. Main findings show that (a) common risky evacuation behaviors that were experienced by the experts were delayed responses, taking a familiar route, running, filming the incident and collecting belonging, (b) it is most effective for evacuation time to have staff guidance with alarms sounding compared to alarms sounding only, based on real-world incidents, and (b) the simulation results showed that the effectiveness of different emergency communication strategies depend on crowd density and how familiar the crowd is with the environment and that ABM is useful to test new communications before applying them in the real-world. Based on the Supervisor’s expertise in risk communication and input from emergency service members, this resulted in recommendations to be tested in Aim 3 in an evacuation experiment. In this experiment, the fellow has used different emergency lighting systems from two Dutch companies (HEFAS and Isolectra) to test whether a dynamic directional light or a blinking sign can influence the route choice in comparison with no evacuation communication.

Knowledge transfer. The knowledge transfer between the supervisor and fellow has been very successful: the fellow gave 19 presentations, wrote 5 research blogs, 5 practitioner magazine articles, held 2 media interviews, 1 podcast, published 8 scientific articles, and submitted another 8 scientific articles. The fellow has reached her mid-term career goal through the MSCA and started a position from the 1st of September 2020 as Associate Professor in Systems Engineering and Simulations at the department of Multi-Actor Systems, Faculty Technology, Policy and Management, Delft university of Technology, the Netherlands. Here, the fellow can continue leading interdisciplinary research improving evacuations to ultimately save lives, as well as broaden her research portfolio by applying her research methods and skills to other areas, such as resilience and energy transition.

Dissemination and exploitation of results. The fellow has given presentations at five international scientific conference that attract researchers from different fields (decision science, crowd science, human factors, technological applications, computer scientists). In total, the fellow has given 1 keynote speaker presentation, 4 conference presentations, 10 guest seminars and workshops, and led 1 scientific conference session. The fellow has been invited as an expert on an international project developing a roadmap for evacuation drills, has submitted three H2020 project proposals and started many collaborations with world leading researchers and industry partners.
Progress beyond the state of the art. The fellow has improved her international impact on computer evacuation modelling and developing new methodological skills and theoretical insight from Psychology. This has been achieved by the Fellow via developing: risk communication research, interdisciplinary research, writing, outreach, public engagement, media skills, interdisciplinary and international academic networks and links to practitioners and policy makers, industrial actors and the media. The fellow has reached her aim to contribute to European excellence and competitiveness in evacuation preparation and management. The fellow has reached this aim by writing grant proposals to continue her research and apply findings to other areas of emergency behavior across the EU and other countries. The fellow has submitted a H2020 RIA submission ‘HIDDEN’ (December, 2018), H2020 RIA submission ‘PREDICT’ (August 2019, August 2020, H2020 COST action ‘ESCAPED’ (October. 2020). In addition, the fellow has been invited as a keynote speaker at the International Conference on Crowd Science in Manchester, UK (Sep, 2019) and as session leader at the Research Conference Chartered Association of Business Schools, Nottingham, UK (March, 2020). The fellow was invited as an expert on project NEED, a collaboration between UK and Canada to help develop a roadmap for the next 10 years of evacuation drills in Ottawa, Canada (June , 2018) and London, UK (April, 2019).

Societal impact. The fellow has made societal impact by communicating the solutions preventing risky behaviours to safety practitioners (police, firefighters, safety managers, crowd managers) via various workshops, online magazines, research blogs and one-on-one sessions. The fellow has also conducted an evacuation experiment using different emergency lighting systems from industry. The fellow has also helped safety practitioners with advising them on safety applications (evacuation time, evacuation routes) based on research findings (Dutch firefighters, Dutch crowd managers). The fellow has made an international impact on computer evacuation modelling, namely of showing the importance of including social factors (Van der Wal et al., 2020). The fellow has progressed the analyses and understanding of risky behaviors during evacuations with conducting video analyses, expert interviews, computer simulations and conducting an evacuation experiment. The main findings show that (a) it is most effective to have staff guidance with alarms sounding compared to alarms sounding only, based on real-world incidents, and (b) the simulation results showed that the effectiveness of different emergency communication strategies depend on crowd density and that ABM is useful to test new communications before applying them in the real-world. Based on the Supervisor’s expertise in risk communication and input from emergency service members, this resulted in recommendations to be tested in Aim 3 in an evacuation experiment.