Human factors investigation of the behavioural response to cues of a fire emergency

Alhuthali, Abdullah (2021) Human factors investigation of the behavioural response to cues of a fire emergency. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Safety is a significant priority in the contemporary building environment and a focus for many organisations and businesses. Studies have been conducted to review different factors regarding human behaviour during fire evacuation and to utilize the findings to model improved egress procedures and to train occupants on how to evacuate safely. However, much is still unknown about the processes of perceiving and responding to an emergency when cues from different information sources conflict. For example, when a fire evacuation warning has been issued, but the conditions in the area appear to be fine, some of the building occupants may have uncertainty about the correct action to take.

There are several cues to an emergency, and some of these may not lead to optimum behaviour. For example, prior research has shown that, in cases where there has been a prevalence of nuisance alarms such as false alarms, occupants may not take action when a real fire alarm is sounded (Proulx, 2007). Moreover, cues to an emergency are often ambiguous and may not be immediately perceived as a threat.

This research was conducted to understand the human responses to cues of an emergency in greater detail. It was based on the Protective Action Decision Model (PADM) (Lindell & Perry, 2012), which outlines the research framework conducted within this PhD. PADM provides a formal model of human behaviour during an emergency. Still, it should be expanded into a more comprehensive method of predicting how people behave in a fire or an evacuation (Kuligowski, 2013). The PADM model identifies several stages in the process of emergency detection and response. The first stage defines several factors that influence awareness of a fire scenario; environmental and social contexts, information sources, warning messages, channel access, and receiver characteristics. This PhD conducted a series of experimental studies to identify the influence of some of these factors on user response to fire alarm cues. The research also compared the use of different research methods, specifically, scenario talk through and virtual reality (VR) simulation, to evaluate user behaviour in response to a fire alarm.

Four studies have been conducted: the first extended the talk-through method previously used by Lawson et al. (2013) by adding the influence of social cues to the fire scenario. The second study presented the same fire scenario and influence of social cues as study 1, using VR. The pattern of results was consistent with previous literature in that passive behaviour of others resulted in longer evacuation times for the participants. Thus, these methods can reveal the influence of social behaviour on predicting human responses to an emergency. Study three extended the VR scenario to include other factors from stage one of the PADM model. These factors include the source of information during an emergency, the content of the information, and the recipient's characteristics. Therefore, the source of information, level of details, and information channels were all identified as significant in emergencies such as fire evacuations. Finally, the fourth study was conducted to understand the effects of social cues (passive or active conflict) on an authority figure or siren in the evacuation process. Again, three groups were identified and exposed to three different messages in a virtual environment. Results showed that an authority figure in an active conflict situation showed a significant reduction in the evacuation times. Thus, this thesis will show that understanding behavioural response to fire emergency cues has potential value in predicting human behaviour in a fire emergency.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Lawson, Glyn
Cobb, Sue
Keywords: Human factors, Fire emergency, Human behaviour, Human engineering
Subjects: T Technology > TA Engineering (General). Civil engineering (General)
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Engineering > Department of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering
Item ID: 66569
Depositing User: Alhjjaji, Abdullah
Date Deposited: 31 Dec 2021 04:41
Last Modified: 31 Dec 2021 04:41

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