Emergency Evacuation: Discussion

Emergency Evacuation: Discussion

 

The aim of this exploratory pilot study was to shine a light on the resource of leadership during an emergency situation. For this reason we proposed some hypothesis that regard connections between some variables that we believe can play an important role during emergencies. We took into account transformational leadership, knowledge about the emergency plan, positive attitude toward emergency plan, self-confidence and the team emergency response.

As predicted by hypothesis 1, higher levels of transformational leadership correspond to higher levels of self-confidence. The significant positive correlation we found supports our idea that transformational leaders will feel confident also during the emergency situation.

Also hypothesis 2 has been confirmed. Indeed, the statistical analysis shows that leaders who have a deeper knowledge about the emergency plan report higher levels of self-confidence. This means that being familiar with the procedures to following in case of emergency allow leaders to feel more confident when the dangerous situation really takes place.

In the same way, having a positive attitude toward the emergency plan is another key variable that positively affects the level of self-confidence. In fact, the correlation analysis has shown that the hypothesis 3 received statistical support: if a leader thinks that the emergency plan is understandable and safe, he/she will feel more sure about how to lead the situation.

The level of self-confidence, at the same time, affects the team emergency response. The correlation matrix, indeed, shows that there is a statistically significant positive correlation between the self-confidence and the team emergency response (hypothesis 4). This means that self-confident leaders have a positive effect on their team members during the emergency, leading them to perform the most appropriate actions.

Moreover, the correlation matrix shows two other relationships that haven’t been taken into account in the research questions chapter. The first one is that positive attitude toward the emergency plan and knowledge about it are strongly positively correlated. This finding is not surprising. Indeed, only if a leader knows the emergency plan he/she will develop a positive attitude toward it, or, on the contrary, only if a leader thinks that the emergency plan is important he/she will be motivated to read and memorize it. The second relationship that emerged from the correlation matrix is that knowledge about the emergency plan is directly and positively correlated to team emergency response. This means that leaders who have a good level of knowledge about how to behave in case of emergency have a positive effect on the emergency performance of their teams, probably suggesting them the right things to do in order to face the hazard.

The model we proposed, with transformational leadership, knowledge about the emergency plan and positive attitude toward it predicting the level of self confidence hasn’t received support from the statistics analysis (hypothesis 5). Indeed, differently to what we thought, knowledge is not a significant predictor. On the other hand, transformational leadership and positive attitude received statistical support. Surprisingly, this means that knowing what to do in case of emergency doesn’t have a predicting effect on the level of confidence in leading the same emergency. Coherently with what we supposed, instead, leaders who adopt a transformational style of leadership and, at the same time, have a positive attitude toward the emergency procedures will experience higher levels of self-confidence during the emergency.

Not even hypothesis 6 has received statistical support. Indeed, there is no statistical significance for the moderator effect of self-confidence in the relationship between transformational leadership and team emergency response.  This could be due to the small sample we used for this pilot study, or maybe truly there is not a significant effect between these variables. Nevertheless further researches are needed to give light to these topics, because there is a gap in the literature so far.

The descriptive analysis provided in this study depict a positive scenario of the emergency management in the organization considered.

Most of the immediate actions performed during the shock were pertinent with the ones suggested in the evacuation plan, like sheltering under the table. Also the team emergency response described by the leaders is positive: the most rated item regards the management of the situation as a team and the clarity of the leadership role. Less than the half of the participants reported that they needed to encourage someone which wasn’t calm and only a quarter of them had to convince someone to leave the building. These are both good indicators of the members performance. Team evacuation behavior can be also be considered positively: the items that received the higher rates regard the safely use of emergency exit in a reasonable time. Most of the leaders reported to have only a little bit of difficulties in leading the situation, and the mean of the self-confidence level was quite high (almost 70%). Results are really positive also taking into account leaders’ knowledge about the emergency plan (the mean of each itemis over 2.46 on a maximum of 3), and leaders’ attitude about it, which is quite positive (the mean of each item is over 3 on a maximum of 4). Moreover, asking about the effectiveness of a list of actions, the answers are pertinent with what the emergency plan recommends. Finally, drills are perceived quiet important or extremely important by eight out of ten leaders.

All this descriptive data enrich our comprehension of the situation happened in the organization we considered as well as this study that aimed to give a description and clarify the leader’s perspective during an emergency evacuation. Nevertheless, there are some limitations that affect this research.

The first one regards the number of participants which is too small. For this reason it could be useful to repeat the study with a bigger number of respondents and retest the 5th and 6th hypothesis that haven’t be statistically supported. It could be also interesting to collect participants from different firms and companies instead that from the same organization.

Another weakness of this paper is that leaders’ knowledge about emergency plan is assessed through questions to the leaders so the measure couldn’t be objective. It would be better to assess their level of knowledge through another questionnaire. For example, it could be more objective to verify if the respondents really know the content of the emergency plan (for example “according to the evacuation plan, where is the nearest emergency exit from your office?”), instead of asking the level of the agreement on the item “I know the emergency plan in case of evacuation”.

Also other type of variables present the same problem of objectivity. Team emergency and team evacuation response are assessed through questions to the leaders, so the measure could not be completely reliable. Also in this case it would be better to use another specific questionnaire able to assess objectively the level of team emergency and evacuation response. As an alternative these variables can be also assessed through some specific drills. Another idea could be to distribute these two scales to a sample of teams’ members as well and then confront their answers to leaders’ ones.

Finally, another factor that has to be taken into account is that social desirability bias is it likely to affect our data. This is because our sample is composed of managers and leaders that can be motivated to answer in a way to ingratiate the company or the employer, faking the results.

The present study is just an exploratory research, but it gives some interesting starting points that would be interested to be examined in depth. Further research is needed to clarify the questions raised in this report. For example, there are no studies analysis leadership in evacuation that take into consideration leadership styles. Also self-confidence is an aspect generally neglected in this field of study. Nevertheless, it is two factor are both involved during the evacuation process.

This study reaffirm, once again, the crucial importance of the psychological issues in evacuation management.  There are many questions that still have to be answered due to the complicated evacuation setting which involves individual, social and environmental factors. Nevertheless, continuing collecting data is of utmost importance to develop a comprehensive model of human behavior in evacuation. Psychological findings will be then added to engineering measures in the evacuation models that are really useful tools to predict time needed to exit buildings. Only with this synergy in efforts workers’ security in the workplaces would be pledged.

 

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Relationships between variables

Relationships between variables

 

Relationships between variables

We run a correlation to test the first fourth hypothesis.

Table 17

Correlation Matrix

Note. *p<.05, **p<.01

As shown in Table 17, transformational leadership and self-confidence are positively correlated, r(26)=.45, p<.05. So, hypothesis 1 can be confirmed. Also knowledge about the emergency plan and self-confidence are positively correlated, r(29)=.40, p<.05 (hypothesis 2). Hypothesis 3, as well, can be confirmed, because the table shows a strong positive correlation between positive attitude toward emergency plan and self-confidence, r(28)=.56, p=.01. As it was supposed in hypothesis 4, also self-confidence and team emergency response are positively correlated, r(28)=.44, p<.05. Moreover, the table shows another relationship that we haven’t supposed at the beginning of this study. Indeed, also knowledge about the emergency plan and team emergency response are positively correlated, r(33)=.39, p<.05. Finally, another interesting finding not considered in the hypothesis is that also positive attitude and knowledge are strongly positively correlated, r(34)=.60, p<.01.

Predictors of self-confidence

A multiple regression analysis was conducted to predict the level of self-confidence from theknowledge about the emergency plan, the positive attitude toward it and the transformational style of leadership. We considered self-confidence as a criterion and knowledge, positive attitude and transformational leadership as predictors. Results are reported in Table 18.

Table 18

Multiple Regression Analysis (dependent variable: self-confidence)

Note. R²=.65.

For this model, both the transformational leadership t(24)=2.21, p<.05 and the positive attitude t(24)=2.51, p<.05 are significant predictors of the team emergency response. On the other hand, knowledge t(24)= -.11, p=.91 resulted not significant. The relationship between the two predictors and the criterion is positive, meaning that is the level of transformational leadership or of the positive attitude rises, also the level of team emergency response will grow. Moreover, looking at the Bs, we can also notice that the positive attitude has a bigger impact (B=13.93) than the transformational leadership (B=10.60). The overall model, with the three predictors, is able to account for the 65% of the variance in the level of self-confidence.

So, the result provides partial confirmation for the hypothesis 5.

Self-confidence’s moderation effect

We tested the moderator effect of self-confidence between transformational leadership and team emergency response using a regression analysis. Results are reported in Table 19.

Table 19

Moderation Analysis (dependent variable: team emergency response)

Note. R² = .13

Looking at the last column, we can see that the interaction between the two variables is not statistical significant (p=. 91). So we are not able to confirm that the strength of the relationship between transformational leadership e team emergency response is affected by the level of self-confidence (hypothesis 5).

 

©  – MANAGEMENT OF AN EMERGENCY EVACUATION: A LEADER’S PERSPECTIVE – Sara Colangeli

Knowledge and attitude toward the emergency plan

Knowledge and attitude toward the emergency plan

 

Knowledge about the emergency plan

Table 12 presents the knowledge about emergency plan mean score with 1 being not at all and 3 being completely. The statements are presented in the order of those in which respondents reported higher levels of agreement to lower levels of agreements.

Table 12

Knowledge about Emergency Plan

Note. Values are based on a scale of 1 to 3 with 1 = not at all and 3  = completely.

Leaders report to have a high level of knowledge about how to perform in case of emergency (see Table 14). All the five items of this scale report a really high mean score. The one that got the lower score regards the building’s structure (M=2.46). This could be because the building is really big and so some people are familiar only with the part they daily use.

Something interesting to notice is that nobody answers “not at all” to the most important and higher item “I know the location of the emergency exit” (M=2.86). Of course asking to the leaders themselves to judge their own level of knowledge has some reliability problems.

 

©  – MANAGEMENT OF AN EMERGENCY EVACUATION: A LEADER’S PERSPECTIVE – Sara Colangeli

Emergency and evacuation response

Emergency and evacuation response

 

Immediate action during the shock

Table 4 presents the respondents’ immediate actions performed during the shock. Most of them reported actions that can be categorized as Action Tasks according to Galea and colleagues (2010): sheltering under the desk, wait, stay calm, etc. Others reported Information Tasks (Galea et al., 2010): advise people to wait, informed colleagues to go under the desk, call 100 to receive further information, looking at colleagues, etc. Answers have been grouped into categories (Table 4).

Table 4

What Were your Immediate Actions during the Shock?

Team emergency response

Table 5 presents the opinions on the team’s emergency preparedness from the leaders’ perspective as a mean score with 1 being totally disagree and 4 being totally agree. The statements are presented in the order of those in which respondents reported higher levels of agreement to lower levels of agreements.

Table 5

Team Emergency Response

Note. Values are based on a scale of 1 to 4 with 1 = totally disagree and 4 = totally agree.

From the table above we can make some observations. Generally, having a look to the means corresponding to each item, it is clear that respondents had a positive perception about the evacuation process (“The emergency was managed effectively” M=2.91). The item that received the higher score is the only one regarding team behavior (M=3.12).

Interpersonal communication with the team members

We also wanted to investigate some aspects of the communication between leaders and teams’ members. So we asked people if they have encouraged someone to stay calm and what they have told him/her. 46% of the sample has actually encouraged some of the members.

Table 6 reports the categories we used to group the answers.

Table 6

Encouraging communication

We were interested in examining also the communication between leaders and members who didn’t want to leave the building. First of all we asked if there was the necessity to convince people to evacuate. 23% of the participants reported that they have to convince some occupants to the need to leave. This percentage is not so high, meaning that three on four employees were already aware of the procedure to follow. Then we asked this portion of participants to report what they told to convince to evacuate (see Table 8).

Table 8

Convincing to leave

Evacuation

As shown in Table 6, most of the respondents (59.5%) evacuated, while 40.5% remained in the building.

Table 6

Did you Evacuate during the Seismic Shock?

Team evacuation behavior (n=12)

Table 12 presents team evacuation behavior as a mean score with 1 being totally disagree and 4 being totally agree. The statements are presented in the order of those in which respondents reported higher levels of agreement to lower levels of agreements.

Table 7

Team Evacuation Behavior

Note. Values are based on a scale of 1 to 4 with 1 = totallydisagree and 4 = totally agree.

Table 12 shows that the evacuation process was performed successfully. Indeed, the higher scores regard behavioral indicators of an efficient evacuation process. Means for these items were all higher than 2.5 on 4. Between the behavioral indicators of a not efficient evacuation only “Someone underestimated the danger” has a mean over 2 on 4 (M=2.27), which means that some leaders were “Partially agree” or “Totally agree” with this statement.

Something interesting to notice is that nobody put a score under “Partially agree” for the item “people used emergency exits” and for “everybody were able to use safely the escape routes” and nobody answered “Totally disagree” for “people evacuated orderly” and “people escape to a place of total safety in a reasonable time”. On the other hand, nobody was “Totally agree” with the item “before moving forward people tested the floor with the foot” and “when moving people kept the body flat to the wall”. This is to say that all the participants were relatively unanimous about the statements we proposed.

Situation’s degree of threat

We asked the respondents to rate the personal degree of threat of the emergency situation. As shown in Table 8, most of them (40%) reported a moderated degree of threat, while 22.9% answered “Quite a bit”.

Table 8

How Did you Rate the Degree of Threat of the Situation?

Difficulties in leading the situation

We asked the respondents to report if they had experienced some difficulties in leading the emergency situation. Most of them (38.9%) reported to have had only “A little bit” of difficulties in leading the situation, while 33.3% reported to not have had any difficulties (see table 9).

Table 9

Did you Encounter any Difficulties in Leading the Situation?

Type of difficulties in leading the situation

Table 10 presents different type of difficulties in leading the situation reported by the respondents through an open-ended question. We have categorized them in 4 groups: lack of information, team member wanting to evacuate, panic and confusion.

Table 10

Difficulties Met in Leading the Situation

Self-confidence in leading the situation

We asked the respondents to give a number between 0 and 100 to rate their level of selfconfidence in leading the emergency situation. The mean was 67.87 (SD= 24.04), so they reported a good level of self-confidence.

 

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Management of an emergency evacuation: RESULTS and past esperience

Management of an emergency evacuation: RESULTS and past esperience

The results are presented in four different sections:

1.    Past experience,

2.    Emergency and evacuation response,

3.    Opinions, attitude and knowledge about the emergency plan,

4.    Relationships between variables.

Past experience

Past earthquake experience

We asked the respondents about previous earthquake experience. 14.3% of the respondents had never experienced an earthquake before, 28.6% had experienced an earthquake only one time before and 57.1% had experienced an earthquake more than one time before (see Table

1).

Table 1

Did you ever Experience an Earthquake before in your Life?

Earthquake experience in the high-rise building

We were interested in understand if the respondents have experienced at least one seismic shock while they were in the building. As Table 2 shows, almost everybody have experienced at least one seismic shock in the building: 97.3% yes and 2.7% no.

Table 2

Have you Experienced at least one Seismic Shock when you Were in the Building?

We asked the respondents to indicate in which floor of the building they were during the most severe shock. Most of the respondents were on the ground floor (16.7%) and on the ninth floor (16.7%), while nobody was on the basement. Table 3 detailed shows respondents position on the different floors during the most severe shock.

Table 3

On which Floor of the Building Were you during the most Severe Shock?

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Management of an emergency evacuation: METHOD

Management of an emergency evacuation: METHOD

 

Participants

This study involved 37 employees from an organization. The organization is located in the Italian area that has experienced an earthquake in 2012. It is a multicultural organization located in a high-rise building of 10 floors. In addition to the employees that daily work in the building, also eventual guests can enter it, until a maximum of 500 persons of building occupancy allowed.

Participants have been selected taking into account their role during the emergency situation. Indeed, we were only interested in people who had a leading role. In particular, 21.6% of the participants were line manager or team leaders and 78.4% were fire pickets. Taking into account the gender, 52.8% of the respondents were males and 47.2% were females. Considering the age, 5.7% were less than 30 years old, 45.7% between 30 and 40 years old, 42.9% between 40 and 50 years old and 5.7% between 50 and 60 years old. Considering the years of work experience in the organization, 8.6% of the respondents has been working in that organization since two years, 20% between two and four years and most of the respondents (71.4%) have been workingin that organization for more than 4 years.

Procedures

Data were collected online in autumn 2012, 5 months after the strong earthquake that occurred in the area of Modena and Bologna provinces (Emilia-Romagna region, Italy) that caused the death of 27 people, with a high percentage of workers died under the collapse of recently constructed workshops.

Measures

Data were collected through an online questionnaire (see Appendix).

The questionnaire is composed of the following parts.

Previous earthquake experience – 1 item, three types of answer “No”, “Yes, once”, “Yes, more than once”.

Earthquake experience in the high rise building – 1 item, dichotomy answer “Yes” or “No”.

Position in the building during the seismic shock – 1 item, twelve type of answers from “Basement” to “Tenth floor”.

Immediate action during the seismic shock – open-ended question. We asked participants to write their immediate actions performed during the seismic shock.

Team emergency response – 8 items, 4 point Likert Scale (from “Totally disagree” to “Totally agree”), Cronbach Alpha=.84. We asked the leaders some information about the response of their teams during the emergency situation (occurred during the seismic shock). The items regard an effective emergency situation in general (e. g. “During the emergency it was clear who was taking the lead”) or specific behaviors (e. g. “People stayed away from windows, mirrors, glasses and electrical/electronic equipment”).

Interpersonal communication with the team members – 2 close-ended questions. We asked participants whether or not they have encouraged someone to stay calm (dichotomy answer “Yes” or “No”). We also asked participants whether or not they have convinced someone to leave the building (dichotomy answer “Yes” or “No”). Then we asked respondents to write down what they told to encourage their team members and what they told to convince to evacuate (open-ended questions).

Evacuation – 1 item. We asked participants to report whether or not they have evacuated the building after the last seismic shock (dichotomy answer “Yes” or “No”).

Team evacuation behavior – 11 items, 4 point Likert Scale (from “Totally disagree” to “Totally agree”). Only respondents who have evacuated after the last seismic shock answered this scale. We asked participants to rate their level of agreement in respect of some statements regarding teams’ evacuation behavior. Three of these items are connected with unsuccessful behaviors or situations and represent negative indicators of the evacuation’s effectiveness: “Someone remained alone and isolated”, “Someone underestimate the danger” and “Before moving forward people tested the floor with the foot”. The rest of the items refer to behaviors and situations that can be considered as positive indicators of the evacuation’s effectiveness (e. g. “People escape to a place of total safety in a reasonable time” or “People evacuated orderly”).

Situation’s degree of threat – 1 item, 5 point Likert Scale (from “Not at all” to “Extremely”). We asked the respondents to rate their personal degree of threat of the emergency situation.

Difficulties in leading the situation – 1 item, 5 point Likert Scale (from “Not at all” to “Extremely”). We asked the participants to report if they had experienced some difficulties in leading the emergency situation.

Type of difficulties – open-ended question. We asked the respondents to report which difficulties they have experienced during the emergency situation.

Self-confidence in leading the situation – 1 item. We asked the respondents to rate with a number between 0 and 100 their level of self-confidence in leading the emergency situation. Knowledge about emergency plan – 5 items, 3 point Likert Scale (from “Not at all” to “Completely”), Cronbach Alpha=.82. This scale measure the knowledge about emergency plan directly asking to leaders. Example of items are: “I know at least two escape routes, which lead to a place of total safety” or “I know the location of the emergency exit”.

Positive attitude about the effectiveness of emergency plan – 4 items, 4 point Likert Scale (from “Totally disagree” to “Totally agree”), Cronbach Alpha=.85. This scale measure the positive attitude of the leaders toward the emergency plan. Indeed, we asked the level of agreement of some statements about the availability, understandability and clarity of the emergency plan.

Opinions about the effectiveness of actions in case of earthquake  – 7 items, 3 point Likert Scale (from “Not effective at all” to “Strongly effective”). We provided a list of actions that can be performed in case of a seismic shock and we asked the leaders how much they think that these actions are effective in order to protect their selves during that situation: “dropping down onto my hands and knees”, “covering my head and neck”, “holding on my shelter”, “evacuating immediately”, “getting down a doorway”, “getting down an interior wall”, “staying away from windows and glass doors”.

Drills’ effectiveness – 1 item, 5 point Likert Scale (from “Not at all” to “Extremely”). We asked respondents’ opinions regarding drill’s effectiveness.

Team’s awareness of the importance of maintaining the safety of the escape routes – 1 item, 5 point Likert Scale (from “Not at all” to “Extremely”). We asked participants to report the level of awareness of their teams regarding the importance of maintaining the safety of the escape routes.

Transformational leadership – 6 items, 5 point Likert Scale (from “Not at all” to “Frequently, if not always”), Cronbach Alpha=.90. We asked the respondents to report the frequency of some leadership behaviors that characterize the transformational leadership by Bass and Avolio (1994). We used some items from the Multi Factor Leadership Questionnaire, in particular the six items that refer to the first two factors of the seven used to describe the leadership style in that questionnaire: idealized influence and inspirational motivation. The first factor is connected to charisma and the second one regards motivation. We choose the following six items because of their pertinence with the topic of this study: “I express with a few words what we could and should do”, “I provide appealing images about what we can do”, “I help others find meaning in their work”, “I make others feel good to be around me”, “Others have complete faith in me”, “Others are proud to be associated with me”.

 

©  – MANAGEMENT OF AN EMERGENCY EVACUATION: A LEADER’S PERSPECTIVE – Sara Colangeli

Management of an emergency evacuation: Research Questions

Management of an emergency evacuation: Research Questions

 

We were interested in analyzing how a leader can be a resource in case of emergency. In particular, how a leader can positively affect the behavior of his/her team during an emergency situation. We supposed that it can influence it in two different ways: or through a transformational style of leadership, or thanks to his/her knowledge of the emergency measures and a positive attitude toward them. We took in consideration also the level of selfconfidence as an leader’s characteristic which can play a positive role affecting the team’s behavior.

For this reason, the aim of this exploratory pilot study is to test the relationships presented in Figure 7.

Figure 7

Firstly, we suppose that leaders who rate to have higher levels of transformational leadership will also report a higher degree of self-confidence during the emergency situation. Indeed, confidence is one of the quality of a transformational leader and one of the effects of a transformational leadership is that it raise members’ self-confidence. We are interested to prove if it is the same during an emergency situation, which is different from an ordinary working context.

Hypothesis 1: Transformational leadership will be correlated to self-confidence

Moreover, we suppose that the level of self-confidence will be affected by the knowledge about the emergency plan. We think that leaders who know more about the emergency procedures will feel more confident in dealing with the emergency situation. As Gershon and colleagues (2007) have pointed out, knowledge about the emergency plan supports the evacuation process during an emergency. In this study we want to know if self-confidence is a variable that plays a role in this situation. For this reason we formulated the following hypothesis.

Hypothesis 2: Knowledge about the emergency plan will be positively correlated to      the level of self-confidence in leading the situation.

We also suggest that leaders who have developed a positive attitude toward the emergencyplan will fell more confident in handling the emergency situation. Indeed, only if a leader thinks that the emergency plan is understandable and safe, he/she will feel sure about how to lead the situation.

Hypothesis 3: Positive attitude toward the emergence plan will be positively correlated to the level of self confidence in leading the situation.

Furthermore, we suggest that leaders who feel self-confident will have a positive impact on their team emergency response. We suppose that team members will feel reassured and won’t panic following the instructions of a leader who seems to control the situation efficiently. For this reason we propose the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 4: The level of self confidence will be positively correlated to the team emergency response.

Trying to get more information about the relationships between the variables considered, we also propose a model in which the level of self-confidence can be predicted by transformational leadership, knowledge about the emergency plan and the positive attitude toward it (Figure 8). So, we suppose that leaders who have higher level of knowledge about the emergency procedures and positive attitude toward them, but also higher levels on the transformational leadership characteristics will feel more confident in leading an emergency situation.

Hypothesis 5: A transformational style of leadership, a high level of knowledge about the emergency plan and a positive attitude toward it will be predictors of the level of self-confidence in leading an emergency situation.

Figure 8

Moreover, we want to better understand the role of a transformational style of leadership in affecting the team emergency response.

According to Bass and Avolio (1994), transformational leaders are perceived like models from the team’s members, or followers, inspiring and motivating them and also enhancing their job performance. We assume that leaders who adopt this kind of leadership style will have an effect on their teams performance also during an emergency situation. Nevertheless, in this relation, we also take into account the self-confidence variable. More in detailed, it is assumed that self-confidence will affect the relationship between transformational leadership and team emergency response. We imagined, indeed, that self-confidence will have a moderator effect between transformational leadership and the team emergency response (Figure 9). Indeed, if leaders adopt a transformational style and feel confident in leading the emergency situation this will positively affect team emergency response.

Hypothesis 6: Transformational leaders who have higher level of self-confidence will result in higher levels of team emergency response.

Figure 9

Moreover, this study presents some descriptive analysis about the evacuation process that occurred in the organization considered.

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Communication in evacuation

Communication in evacuation

 

Communication in emergencies, and so also in evacuations, has always been developed in an attempt to not lead people to panic. Until very recently, indeed, there were the commonplace that telling people about an emergency incident would lead to panic (Quarantelli & Dynes 1972; Tierney 2003). On the basis of this assumption, notification procedures and specific languages were developed trying to give as less information as possible about the emergency but, at the same time, enough to make people perform the actions needed to respond to the problem. In the last years, research and practical experience have observed that people need detailed information as early as possible. This would lead more likely to a quick, efficient and reactive response to the emergency, reducing the risk of delays and misunderstandings. “The availability of this information encourages people to accept the emergency procedures and to improve their familiarity with the required response, and later informs the decision-making process that determines their response. People need information in order to act” (Kuligowski, et al., 2012, p.2).

Nowadays it is widely accepted that the more efficient way to communicate in emergencies is to provide much information as possible. Verbal messages are preferred to ring signals (Benthorn & Frantzich, 1996) not only because verbal message can give more detailed information, but also because some authors founded problems in recognizing a fire alarm from another type of alarm (Bellamy & Geyer, 1990; Benthorn & Frantzich, 1996).An experiment conducted on the understandability of an alarm signal revealed that 41% of the subjects perceived the ring signal as if it was an ordinary unspecified alarm or warning signal and 17% thought it was a telephone ringing, while only 19% perceived it as a fire alarm (Benthorn & Frantzich).  In particular, clear and concise information is more able to convince people.

Literature on communication in evacuation has mainly focused on warnings. Rogers and Sorensen (1991) divide the warning process in 2 phases: alerting and notification. “Alerting deals with the ability of emergency officials to make people aware of an imminent hazard.

Alerting frequently involves the technical ability to break routine acoustic environments to cue people to seek additional information. In contrast, notification focuses on how people interpret the warning message” (Rogers & Sorensen, 1991, p. 118). Indeed, evacuation is not merely a function of hearing a warning and responding. It is the definition of the situation as dangerous that must be seen as the intervening mechanism between cue perception and evacuation behavior. For this reason, a requirement for evacuation is warning belief (Mileti & Beck, 1975). This means that the warning process involves features related to both warning message and receiver. Warning belief depends on four communication-related variables:

    1. communication mode – that is the manner in which the warning message is communicated (e. g. telephone, face-to-face conversation). Different channels of communication have different degrees of authoritativeness, credibility and legitimacy for occupants (Williams, 1964).
    1. content of the warning message – according to Janis (1958), an effective warning message has to be balanced between fear-arousing and fear-reducing statements. Feararousing statements should evoke mental scenarios of the potential threat. Fearreducing statements, instead, should suggest appropriate avoidance and protective emergency actions.  A person-specific message will be more effective than an impersonal one (Moore, 1963), as well as a message consisting of specific information rather than general information.
    1. perceived warning certainty – it is a subjective interpretation and it depends also on prior disaster experience, relative proximity to the source of disaster, confidence in the source of warning, interpretation of the warning and discussion with members of the social network (Rogers & Sorensen, 1991).
    1. confirmation – it is a direct function of perceived warning certainty.

Another important factor of communication in evacuation is the features of the warning source. For example, information is more influential if it came from a trusted and legitimate source (Gershon et al., 2007).

Another communicative tool in emergency is the signage system. Indeed, an effective signage system can be crucial for the way-finding task that an evacuation process needs.  Most of the times information are needed to locate the exit, because of the limited visibility (due, for example, to smoke) or to the building layout (which can be complex). The indications communicated by the signage system aim to reduce the complexity of a building. Nevertheless this means more than putting some signals to indicate the exit door, because several physical, cognitive and psychological aspects influence the interaction between the occupants and the system (Xie et al., 2009).

According to Leik and Gifford (as cited in Aguirre, 2005), greater amounts of information result in a delayed evacuation because more time is needed for the decision making stage. On the other hand, other findings show that people well informed about what is happening and what they are expected to do evacuate quicker (Benthorn & Frantzich, 1996).

 

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Leadership in evacuation

Leadership in evacuation

 

Social psychology applied to evacuation behavior has also focused on leadership, that is a process of social influence which has a great impact in managing both routine emergencies and catastrophic events (Boin & ‘t Hart, 2003; Giuliani, 2002; Kweit & Kweit, 2006; Sjoberg, Claes & Larsson, 2006; Witt, 2002). Drury and Cocking (2007) have pointed out that people facing a confused and uncertain situation usually follow those they think should know what to do. Taking their point of view by which social structure is preserved even during an emergency, that role will be assumed by fire pickets, fireman, police officers and so on. Survivors of the WTC 9/11 terroristic attack have reported that rapid and decisive orders given by a person perceived to be a leader prompted them to initiate the evacuation (Gershon et al., 2007). These are only few example of the power of leadership as a tool to enhance the effectiveness of evacuation. Nevertheless it has to be taken in mind that leadership is a double-edged sword. “At the extreme, good leadership either minimizes catastrophes or prevents them altogether, whereas weak leadership makes matters worse, compounding the damage” (Kapucu & Van Wart, 2008, page 711).

Leadership in evacuation has been studied not only from a social-psychology point of view. Several disciplines have given their contribution to this topic, enlarging the perspective.

Biological and ethological studies have discovered that groups of humans operate like other groups of animals, underlining that a minority of informed individuals can lead a naïve group similar to migrating flocks of birds following experienced birds. Moreover, the evacuation process started by these informed leaders will be better in terms of speed and accuracy than one without leaders (Dyer, Ioannou, Morrell, Croft, Couzin, Waters & Krause, 2008). Studies in this field have investigated leadership in case of hazards and the consensus decisionmaking in human crowds basing on comparisons with animals.

On the other hand, engineering evacuation models have focused on leadership in terms of simple crowd guidance. They assume that effective crowd guidance can improve egress efficiency and occupant survivability (Aubé & Shield, 2004; Wang, Luh, Chang & Sun, 2008). Some of these engineering studies have focused on interesting topics that are useful to develop a more efficient evacuation management. For example, Aubé and Shield (2004) have pointed out that leaders standing in specific positions and walking at a specific speed can influence the behavior of the crowd and lead occupants to the exit. In their simulation leader agents, unlike the others, had a global knowledge of the environment and were situated in different positions of the crowd they had to conduct out of the room. What the authors found is that the best condition (in terms of saved agents in the shortest time) was the peripheral leaders, placed around the immediate edges of the crowd, forming a border around the crowd starting point. Nevertheless, a second experiment revealed that a mixed condition of embedded (in the center of the crowd), peripheral and distant (at some distance from the crowd starting point) leaders was the one that was able to save the biggest number of people in the shortest time. Regarding the optimal leaders’ speed, Aubé and Shield (2004) determined that the optimal movement rate was approximately half the speed of the crowd members. Nevertheless, this perspective reduces the leader’s role to a guide to the emergency exit, neglecting all the psychological dynamics linked to leadership.

A new interest in studying this topic from a psychological point of view has been increasing since the ‘80s. There are several branches of research regarding leadership, such as leadership and panic, leader behavior in terms of gestures and communication during an emergency, leader’s competencies and characteristics or leaders that emerge in that particular situation.

The first findings that have been found out in the ‘80s regard the relationship between leadership and the feelings of panic and tension that an emergency situation creates. The initial strong interested in studying panic and leadership associated to evacuation processes has decline due to the fact that panic is a quiet rare event (Aguirre, 2005; Shields & Proulx, 2000). Human reaction to disasters, in particular to fires, is indeed seen as “a logical attempt to deal with a complex, rapidly changing situation in which minimal information is available for decision and action” (Shields & Proulx, 2000, p. 102). Nevertheless, in same situations panic can occur, and an effective leadership is one of the factors that can reduce it.

Considering the branch of research about leader’s correct behavior in evacuation, the traditional approach recognizes an effective leader through behaviors like standing in a visible position, gesturing, and loudly directing people toward the exit (Sugiman & Misumi, 1988). Nevertheless, Sugiman and Misumi (1988) developed an evacuation method called Follow Me Method, in which “each leader chooses one or two evacuees who are closest to the leader, and individually asks them to follow the leader. Subsequently, the leader actually takes them to the appropriate exit. In this method, the leader never verbally indicates the direction of the exit, nor raises his or her voice or makes any vigorous gestures. This method is characterized by concentrating the leader’s action on one or two persons to bring them with the leader” (Sugiman & Misumi, 1988, p. 4). The authors found out that the Follow Me Method was more effective only in situations with a large number of leaders and a small number of evacuees (for example when the number of evacuees for leader was 4). With larger groups and less leaders, the traditional method, called Follow Directions Method, in which “the leaders indicate the direction of an appropriate exit for as many persons as possible with a loud voice and vigorous gestures, saying, for example, “Go to that exit” ” (Sugiman & Misumi, 1988, p. 4) was more effective. Nevertheless, the experiment condition of a mix method of leadership was finally the most successful situation.

Other scholars have tried to found out the main competences that a leader in an emergency situation would need. These are: decisiveness, flexibility, informing, problem solving, managing change and creativity, personnel planning, motivating, building and managing teams, scanning the environment, strategic planning, networking and partnering and organizational-level decision making (Kapucu & Van Wart, 2008).

Nevertheless, leadership isn’t a unidirectional process, but an interactive one (Aguirre, 2005). Indeed, it depends both on leader’s features and team members’ perceptions. “Whether an individual would follow guidance is probabilistic and depends on his/her trust on the guidance provided, and his familiarity with the evacuation paths” (Wang et al., 2008, p. 328). Perceived authority of the leader is crucial in case of evacuation. Gershon and colleagues (2007) have found that people were slower to evacuate during the WTC 9/11 terroristic attack if the leader indicating to evacuate was perceived not enough authoritative. According to the same studying, also positioning leaders along the routes of evacuation was a facilitator for its effectiveness.

According to Aguirre (2005) an emergency situation is an uncommon situation and this new condition demands new leadership skills. From this perspective, during a crisis social roles are redistributed and so is leadership. Other researches regarding leadership in emergencies have found out the situation in which a leader can emerge (Aguirre, 2005; Kuligowski, 2008). For example, a leader can suggest event interpretations to team members and help them giving sense to the situation. Otherwise, he can manage the emergency situation suggesting the actions to be performed in the 3rd and 4th phase of the behavioral process for building fires (Kuligowski, 2008). “The group member who will become the leader is the one who proposes an innovative solution to the collective problem that is judged plausible and credible by the other group members” (Aguirre, 2005, p. 127). Innovators are most likely to become the leaders because they propose an innovative solution to the collective problem.  In other words, the leader will likely be the person who has skills, knowledge and innovative ideas that are considered as maximizing the chance of evacuate successfully for each team member. For this reason, new leaders are not necessarily those who conform to the pre-existing norms of the group (Aguirre, 2005).

Nevertheless, a lot of social-psychological questions are still unanswered in the study of leadership and in other dimensions of emergency evacuations that should be of interest to psychologists.

 

©  – MANAGEMENT OF AN EMERGENCY EVACUATION: A LEADER’S PERSPECTIVE – Sara Colangeli

Social Factors: Human crowd in evacuation

SOCIAL FACTORS IN EVACUATION: HUMAN CROWD IN EVACUATION

 

In most of the cases, evacuation process has a social aspect too. Indeed, emergency situations usually involve more than one person: people working in the same office, a family living in its house, a city or even a whole region facing a flood or an earthquake. “Evacuation is rarely an individual process. Even in single-person households, the first response to the initial evacuation warning is to seek further information on the validity of the threat or to consult with a friend, co-worker, neighbor, family member, or relative. Evacuations usually take place in a group context (Drabek & Stephenson, 1971)” (Sorensen & Sorensen, 2006, p. 185).

This chapter will offer a literature review about social factors in evacuation, focusing on human crowd in evacuation and the “mass panic” approach, then talking about the relevance of leadership in this kind of situation and concluding with some information regarding communication in evacuation.

Human crowd in evacuation

In its first decades, psychological research about crowd movements in emergencies has focused on the “mass panic” approach (Le Bon, 1895). From this point of view, crowd is seen as an irrational group of individuals driven by instinct of personal survival. Social bounds dissolve and panic and confusion arise (Strauss, 1944) resulting in competitive behavior with people attending to their own needs. Fear cancels social and cultural constrains in favor of the short-term personal interest, which is evacuate as quicker as possible. Quarantelli (1954) have pointed out some conditions that would lead to mass panic: the perception of an immediate major physical danger, the feeling of possible entrapment and the perception collective powerlessness, and a feeling of individual isolation in a crisis situation. In this condition, moreover, the level of attention is reduced and people start to conform to other individuals because of social contagion (Helbing & Johansson, 2010). “This herding behavior is in some sense irrational, as it often leads to bad overall results like dangerous overcrowding and slower escape. In this way, herding behavior can increase the fatalities or, more generally, the damage in the crisis faced” (Helbing & Johansson, 2010, p. 14). Nevertheless, in some conditions this herding behavior, which can be explained as a stronger tendency of follow other people under stress, can be useful, for example in unfamiliar environments or in case of smoke caused by a fire. In such scenarios evacuees may be more likely to obtain information on exit routes by watching or following others (Bode & Codling, 2013). According to Helbing and Johansson (2010), “optimal chances of survival are expected for a certain mixture of individualistic and herding behavior, were individualism allow some people to detect the exit and the herding guarantees that successful solutions are imitated by small group of others” (p. 17).

Laboratory experiments and real past emergency situations have shown that “mass panic” approach doesn’t really explain people’s behaviors in emergencies, because antisocial and selfish behaviors are rare and people continue to be social actors embedded in social organizations (Drury, Cocking & Reicher, 2008). For example in an analysis conducted by Gershon and colleagues (2007) on the WTC 9/11 evacuation participants described a sense of social cohesion creating a protective atmosphere in the groups that were leaving the towers.

So, other approaches have been developed in the last decades and nowadays coexist in explaining crowd behaviors. Some of them are:

    • the normative approach, which postulates that social roles, norms and rules of conducts that people use in everyday life remain the same even in emergency situations (Johnson, 1987);
    • the affiliation model, which affirms that people are more motivated in seeking for their familiars and even to stay with them more than simply exit (Mawson, 2005). In particular, “the typical response of threat and disasters is not to flee but to seek the proximity of familiar persons and places; moreover separation from attachment figures is a greater stress factor than physical danger” (Mawson, 2005, p.101);
    • the self-categorization theory (Turner, 1982) that explains also the mutual aid amongst strangers and the solidarity thanks to the identification of some aspects of oneself with the other (Drury, Cocking & Reicher, 2008). “The shared fate could create a sense of ‘we-ness’ among those who are similarly threatened according to which social bonds are created and strengthened” (Girod, 2012, p. 6). It is interesting to underline that this social bond is so hard to resist also after that the threat has gone.

The assumption of evacuee as actors acting rationally and normatively has important implications and some of the aspects of human behavior in evacuation that we mentioned above have repercussion if it is a crowd who has to evacuate. One of this is the decision about the exit to use. Lots of studies have pointed out that people in evacuation use the exit they usually came in because it is the most familiar (Benthorn & Frantzich, 1996; Johnson 2005; Proulx 2001). In case of huge groups of people this can lead to potentially dangerous collective phenomena at high pedestrian densities. Indeed, the sheer press of people eliminates the possibility to change route or to determine individual’s movements in the space (Aguirre, 2005). Overcrowding in preferred routes may result in injuries or fatalities among the evacuees. Recently, Bode and Codling (2013) have found an opposite result regarding exit choice in evacuation. Indeed, their study, based on a simulated evacuation in a virtual environment, shows that people normally don’t have a preference on the familiar route, but look for the emergency exit. The only experimental condition in which the preference for the familiar route is confirmed is the “motivational” one. In this case time pressure was put the to participants by a motivational message inviting them to beat the current fastest time to reach the new target during the countdown. Only in this condition of stress and time pressure they were more likely to choose the more familiar route, even if it was the most crowded one.

Analyzing crowd behavior in evacuation, Aguirre (2005) have highlighted some interesting group characteristics that play a relevant role. First of all the size: the bigger the group, the more difficult and longer it will be for the group todecide how to response to the danger. Group composition and heterogeneity is connected to size. The bigger the group, the more heterogeneous it could be. Variation, differences of opinions and relevant experience about what to do will result in longer time to decide what to do (Aguirre, 2005). This result is in contrast with the critical mass theory (Marwell & Oliber, 1993), which states that bigger groups have a higher probability of having a critical mass of members able to solve the situation. For this reason research is needed to understand how group heterogeneity impacts the decision to evacuate and evacuation behavior. Groups vary not only in terms of size and heterogeneity, but also in terms on amount of resources available. Aguirre (2005) states that: the greater the amount of resources available to the groups, the slower will be their adoption of evacuation behavior, for it will take more time for the groups to agree on how to use these resources and integrate them into their new division of labor.

©  – MANAGEMENT OF AN EMERGENCY EVACUATION: A LEADER’S PERSPECTIVE – Sara Colangeli