Individual Factors in Evacuation:Knowledge and training



As shown in the previous section, there are some factors related to the occupant that are relevant in the evacuation process. In this chapter some of them will be presented more in detail. Primarily, research findings about knowledge and training in evacuation will be provided. Then, there will be a focus on risk perception, taking into account all the factors that affect it. Finally, some information of the role of occupants’ perceptions and attitudes about emergency measures during an evacuation will be reported.

Knowledge and training


There is another crucial factor in evacuation that has to be taken into account: knowledge of the emergency procedures and training (Gershon et al., 2007; Kuligowski, 2008). “During the evacuation process, a high level of knowledge related to fire safety procedures, staircase location, and building layout, coupled with ongoing sensory cues that indicated that the situation is dangerous, supported the evacuation process” (Gershon et al., 2007, p. 171). Kuligowski (2008) has demonstrated that if an occupant has knowledge of fire training the likelihood of perceiving a cue and of defining the situation as a risk increases. Moreover, the time needed for the perception and interpretation of the cue phases is lower and all the evacuation process results to be quicker and more efficient. Another element that plays a key role is an informative evacuation alarm system that gives more detailed information about what is going on. Different from a normal alarm with a ringing bell, an informative evacuation alarm system also provides a human voice specifying the type of hazard, the affected areas, and other information that even trained people can’t know. The main advantage of this type of alarm is that it can reduce the time spent in the interpretation of the cue. The more occupants are well trained and informed about what is happening and what they are expected to do, the quicker and more efficient the evacuation will be (Benthron & Frantzich, 1996). Shields and Proulx (2000) have underlined the difference between trained and untrained occupants. Trained, prepared and experienced people are facilitated in recognition, rationalization and effective actions, while untrained or inexperienced people resort to unstructured information and acquiesce to authoritative instructions or other leadership when available. 

A drill is a method of practicing an evacuation from a building in case of different hazards and so of training people to be prepared in case of an emergency. Drills are made to be as realistic as possible: usually the alarm sounds and the building is evacuated exactly like in a real emergency situation. Drills purposes are to measure the time needed to evacuate, to ensure that it is reasonable (in case it is too much the problem with the evacuation process is identified to be remedied) and to train occupants. Drills and other specific emergency trainings are the best way to make people aware of evacuation protocols and procedures, as well as possible means of egress from the building (Kuligowski, Gwynne, Butler, Hoskins & Sandler, 2012). Nevertheless, even though drills are scenarios that realistically recreate the emergency situation, some processes and behaviors differ in real evacuations and in drills. As Bode and Codling (2013) state: “Evacuation drills are perhaps the closest proxy for evacuations. However, if these drills are to be highly realistic, they are potentially dangerous to participants and therefore not ethical. When risks to participants are avoided, drills are unlikely to convey the real stress to which evacuees are exposed” (Bode & Codling ,2013 ,p. 348). Drills don’t have the stress components of the ambiguity of some emergency situation, not even the physiological or psychological exposure to some hazard’s effects like smoke, or falling objects (Bryan, 1999). Taking into account this weak point, drills are a good tool to build an efficient emergency management anyway and staff training is a worth making investment and has to be included in the emergency management (Shields & Proulx, 2000).

Previous experience also plays an important role in facilitating the evacuation (Gershon et al., 2007). Indeed it can be considered as a kind of previous training. Moreover, prior individual emergency experience could fill gaps in organizational preparedness, and, on the other hand, a high level of organizational preparedness could compensate for deficiencies at the individual’s preparedness level (Gershon et al., 2007). 

According to Aubé and Shield (2004) not only the knowledge about the emergency procedures, but also the knowledge of the environment is important for an effective evacuation. Nevertheless, some type of buildings, such as hotels, commercial buildings, stadiums, etc. are only occasionally used by people that obviously can’t be familiar with the environment. In these cases “using security personnel or other key persons that can help the evacuation of the crowd is the most practical way to enhance the security of a crowd” (Aubé & Shield, 2004, p. 602).