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Human Behaviour in the Event of Fire

Factors affecting human behaviour

Numerous factors contribute to human behaviour in the event of fire outbreak. Some of these factors include characteristics of occupants, features of the affected building, and fire dynamics (Bruck 2001). Moreover, environmental factors might also contribute to human behaviour during fire outbreaks. The occupant characteristics play a significant role in determining the human behaviour in the event of a fire outbreak. The occupant characteristics that contribute to the human behaviour include one’s mobility and age. Children and the old people encounter challenges when evacuating a building in the event of a fire outbreak. While the old people are incapable of leaving the building swiftly, children tend to panic and crowd together, especially if the building has numerous storeys. On the other hand, men are always composed and they can fight a fire for a long time compared to women who panic and leave the building immediately (Bryan 2008).

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The condition of an occupant during a fire outbreak can also contribute to one’s behaviour. For instance, if a person is sick during the outbreak, one may be incapable of responding swiftly and appropriately. Decision-making styles and personality of every occupant contribute to human behaviour in the event of fire outbreak. Some occupants emulate their colleagues while others take the initiative to direct others during fire outbreaks. The role that an occupant plays in a building contributes to one’s behaviour in the event of a fire outbreak. For example, in case of a fire outbreak in a restaurant, it would be hard for a client to try to extinguish it. However, the owner or manager of the restaurant would try to extinguish it before evacuating the building (Bryan 2008).

Lo et al. (2001) posit, “The building characteristics also affect the way people behave in the event of a fire outbreak” (p.145). It is hard to expect the occupants in a skating rink, a church, or a cinema hall to react the same in case of a fire outbreak even though all these buildings act as meeting places. Each of the buildings offers a specific challenge. Another building characteristic that contribute to human behaviour in the event of fire is the space design (Lo et al. 2001). The occupants face challenges in evacuating a building with complex spaces. It becomes hard for people to locate the exit doors or alternative exits if the main exits are closed. The events taking place within a building affect the way people behave in the event of a fire outbreak. People in a casino floor would react differently from those in swimming pools or in guest rooms. The building’s fire safety characteristics also contribute to human behaviour in the event of fire. Buildings with fire alarms alert the occupants in the event of a fire outbreak, thus giving them an opportunity to respond in advance before it spreads into the entire building. On the other hand, occupants in buildings without fire alarms tend to panic for the fire catches them unawares (Proulx 1997). It becomes hard for such occupants to locate the exit doors leading to some crowding in one place and eventually fatalities.

The fire dynamics influence human behaviour in the event of a fire outbreak. During fire outbreak, individuals make out varied cues from the fire; hence, their explanation of the circumstances changes swiftly, thus affecting their behaviour. For instance, when the occupants perceive a smell of smoke, they would respond differently from when they see the fire (Proulx 1997). For instance, in a disco club in Gothenburg, Sweden, people dismissed smoke from a building and thus they did not evacuate the club immediately. A majority of them associated the smell to dry ice while others claimed that it was emanating from the smoke machine (Proulx 1997). Eventually, many people ended up losing their lives because the fire engulfed them before leaving the building. The smoke made it hard for them to see the fire; moreover, most of them ignored the smoke even after one of the disc jockeys warned them of a fire outbreak.

Improving human behaviours towards the threat of fire

One way of improving human behaviour in the event of fire outbreak is by training people how to respond. The United Kingdom government has put in place regulations that require institutions to train their staff on how to deal with fire outbreaks. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, Part 1 section 4 stipulates that individuals that own or manage business premises have the duty to install fire alarms, conduct regular fire risk assessments, install fire-fighting equipments, and above all, train their staff on how to react in the event of an outbreak (Shields & Boyce 2000). The regulations require employers to equip their employees with adequate fire safety skills immediately after recruitment and take them through regular refresher training whenever there are changes on fire safety strategies.

Another method that can help in improving human behaviour in the event of fire outbreak is installing voice communication gadgets in all buildings. Such gadgets would help in directing the occupants on the routes to take when leaving the building. One of the reasons why people initially failed to install such gadgets was the belief that the installations would instil panic in people on informing them about a fire outbreak (Shields & Boyce 2000), but on the contrary, informing people about fire outbreak would help in avoiding cases of dysfunctional behaviours. Studies have proved that informing occupants about fire outbreaks through voice communication helps them to make informed decisions and react immediately (Shields & Boyce 2000).

Prior to evacuating a building under fire, the occupants go through two pre-movement phases, viz. the awareness and the egress phases. The decision to leave a building comes after the occupants are aware of fire outbreak, which can be through fire bells, smell, smoke, or even information from colleagues (Shields & Boyce 2000). In most cases, people do not make up their mind to leave the building immediately; instead, they take time to confirm from their colleagues or the management of the building. Hence, the awareness phase involves collecting as much evidence as possible about fire outbreak before making the decision to evacuate the building. In a bid to improve human behaviour in this phase, it is imperative to have clear information about the fire size, position, and fighting equipments already available in the building among others (Shields & Boyce 2000). The information would help the occupants to understand the magnitude of the danger they are in, and thus make an informed decision and avoid dysfunctional behaviours. The awareness phase contributes to the action taken by the occupants in the subsequent stages of the evacuation process. For instance, once the occupants learn that they cannot handle the fire, they would opt to evacuate the building immediately.

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The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) uses the theory of occupant behaviour to explain why people behave differently in the event of fire. According to the institute, people take different actions after perceiving certain cues and after interpreting the situation (Kuligowski 2009). Moreover, numerous factors control the different phases of an evacuation process. The factors include if an individual perceives the cues, the interpretations an individual makes, and the actions an individual takes. These factors and the phases of the evacuation process depend on the occupants. The NIST identifies four phases of the pre-evacuation process, viz. the perception phase, the interpretation phase, the decision-making phase, and the action phase. The perception phase entails receiving different cues like smoke, flame, and heat. Different people would interpret this phase differently.

The interpretation phase entails interpreting the perceived cues. In this phase, different genders would interpret the perceived cues differently. For instance, women would evaluate the dangers that the cues pose to their children while men might be the focus on salvaging the property. Such interpretations explain why different genders behave differently in the event of a fire outbreak. The third phase of the pre-evacuation process is the decision-making process (Kuligowski 2009), which comes after the occupants interpret the nature of the situation. In this phase, women might make the decision to save their children or evacuate the building immediately while men might decide to confront the situation based on the nature and size of fire. After making their decisions, the occupants would enter into the fourth phase that entails implementing the decisions made.

In the attempt to avoid chances of people being trapped in the building, there is a need for a proper egress procedure in every building. A strong and viable egress procedure would facilitate in improving human behaviour in the event of fire outbreak. In most cases, people tend to run for elevators in time of fire outbreaks. Eventually, people end up being trapped in the elevators due to electric failure (Bukowski & Kuligowski 2004). Therefore, to avoid such cases, buildings ought to have a mechanism that locks all the elevators in the event of fire outbreak. This move would leave all the occupants with the option of using the stairs only to evacuate the building. Besides, buildings ought to have proper means of egress (MOE) that comprise corridors leading to the exit, the exit (in most cases a stair), and exit discharge (a door leading to the outside) (Bukowski & Kuligowski 2004). Such a means would ensure that people do not panic in the event of fire outbreak; besides, it would save people from the overhead of looking for alternative means to leave a building. Prior to evacuation, the occupants should have clear information about the means of egress, which can be done through voice communication gadgets installed within the building. Moreover, on-site managers can facilitate in enlightening the occupants about the established egress procedure (Bukowski & Kuligowski 2004).

Relationship among human behaviours, fire, and injuries

According to Barillo and Goode (1996), there are significant correlations among human behaviour, fire, and injuries. For individuals with limited knowledge on how to respond in the event of fire outbreak, their behaviours lead to most of them suffering from injuries. A study by Barillo and Goode showed that in the event of fire outbreak, some people tend to panic, which prompts them to run towards the exits while others run for the elevators. In most cases, many people spot a single exit and in the process of trying to escape through the exit, stampede ensues thus leading to numerous fatalities as well as injuries (Barillo & Goode 1996). For instance, during the incidence at Beverly Hills Super Club, many people were injured due to stampede that ensued as people struggled to exit the building using the same exit. Panic makes it hard for people to think straight or take time to assess the nature of the danger. Consequently, they do not take time to look for alternative exits even after identifying that the nearest exit is overcrowded (Barillo & Goode 1996).

Kobes et al. (2010) posit that the most significant feature of building’s safety with respect to fire is the possibility of safe escape. Inclusion of fire safety facilities facilitate in controlling fire in case of an outbreak. Kobes et al. (2010) assert that understanding how people react in the event of fire outbreak and during the pre-evacuation stage facilitate in putting up the appropriate fire safety precautions. Their study found that psychonomics play significant role in determining how occupants respond to fire outbreaks. Therefore, they recommend a scientific study in the field of fire safety to ensure that all buildings are equipped with the requisite safety designs.

The actions taken by individuals during fire outbreaks lead to injuries. For instance, some people opt to confront the fire instead of evacuating the building; regrettably, they might do this with limited fire fighting equipments like fireproof clothes and extinguishers. In the process, they end up suffering from burns (Bryan 2008). Others decide to salvage their property rather than leaving the building immediately. Such people subject themselves to risks of deaths or injuries. As they try to retrieve their property, the fire overwhelms some and if lucky, they suffer from minor burns, but if unlucky, they end up losing their lives. Another human behaviour that contributes to injuries during fire outbreak is alcoholism (Bryan 2008). Alcoholism impairs an individual’s ability to make a proper decision. Besides, it makes one weak and unable to move quickly. In the event of fire outbreak, a person that is under the influence of alcohol is unable to identify the exit and if one does, the person is incapable of evacuating the building swiftly (Istre et al. 2001). In the process of evacuating the building, an individual ends up suffering from burns or knocking oneself against the stairs or walls of the building.

Numerous researchers have focused on group size as one of the factors that contribute to injuries during fire outbreaks. According to the researches, some people tend to move in groups in the event of fire outbreaks; therefore, such people cannot leave a building before they ensure that all their group members are around (Istre et al. 2001). For instance, a family may decline to evacuate a building until it finds all its members. In such a case, it might be hard to evacuate the affected people leading to injuries and deaths.

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History of the concept of human behaviour

Increase in human error led to the study of human factors. The study sought to use human behaviour and characteristics to improve the efficiency of machine systems. The study of human error began in the nuclear power industry by the establishment of judgment systems like success likelihood index methodology (SLIM). Human beings play a vital role in both emergency response and accident causation (Bellamy 1994). The desire to extend this study and offer systems that can relate human factors with quantitative risk evaluation led to the introduction of human behaviour in different fields like fire and safety. Eventually, countries like the United Kingdom came up with standards that outlined the factors that affect human behaviour.

BS7974 and BS9999 are examples of the United Kingdom standards that discuss some of the factors affecting human behaviour when evacuating in the event of fire. The standards give the most relevant fire protection systems that every building ought to install (Christian 2007). Other standards that discus some of the factors that affect human behaviour during evacuation in the event of fire outbreak include the International Fire Engineering Guidelines and BS 5588-0. International Fire Engineering Guidelines offer guidelines on how engineers ought to design their building to facilitate human movement in the event of fire outbreak (Christian 2007). The standards put into consideration the factors that affect human behaviour during evacuation. These factors include the architectural design of a building as well as the presence of fire alarms and other mechanisms of notifying the occupants in the event of an outbreak (Christian 2007).

Another regulation that addresses the factors that contribute to human behaviour in the event of fire is BS 5588-0. This regulation focuses on the factors that contribute to human behaviour in the event of fire outbreak. It leverages these factors to help in designing of various architectural structures (Christian 2007). One of the challenges of this regulation is that it is inflexible, thus making it hard to adjust to the changing architectural designs. Nevertheless, the regulation facilitates in construction of buildings and establishment of means of egress based on human behaviour.

Reference List

Barillo, D & Goode, R 1996, ‘Fire Fatality Study: Demographics of Fire Victims’, Burns, vol. 22 no. 2, pp. 85-88.

Bellamy, L 1994, ‘The influence of human factors science on safety in the offshore industry’, Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries, vol. 7 no. 4, pp. 370-375.

Bruck, D 2001, ‘The Who, What, Where and Why of Waking to Fire Alarms: A Review’, Fire Safety Journal, vol. 36 no. 7, pp. 623-639.

Bryan, J 2008, Human Behaviour and Fire: Fire Protection Handbook, 20th Edition, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA.

Bukowski, R & Kuligowski, E 2004, The Basis for Egress Provisions in the U.S. Building Codes, InterFlam, Edinburgh, UK.

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Christian, S 2007, A Guide to Fire Safety Engineering, Pims Digital, Essex.

Istre, G, McCoy, M, Osborn, L, Barnard, J & Bolton, A 2001, ‘Deaths and Injuries in House Fires’, New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 322 no. 25, pp. 1911-1916.

Kobes, M, Helsloot, I, De Vries, B & Post, J 2010, ‘Building safety and human behaviour in fire: A literature review’, Fire Safety Journal, vol. 45 no. 1, pp. 1-11.

Kuligowski, E 2009, ‘The process of human behaviour in fires’, National Institute of Standards and Technology Technical Note, vol. 1632, pp. 5-9.

Lo, S, Lam, K, Yuen, K & Fang, Z 2001, ‘A Pre-evacuation Behavioural Study for the People in a High-rise Residential Building under Fire Situations’, International Journal on Engineering Performance-Based Fire Codes, vol. 2 no. 4, pp. 143-152.

Proulx, G 1997, Misconceptions about Human Behaviour in Fire Emergencies, National Emergency Training Center, Emmitsburg, MD.

Shields, T & Boyce, K 2000, ‘A Study of evacuation from large retails stores’, Fire Safety Journal, vol. 35 no. 1, pp. 25-49.

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