The LWF Blog

Facilities Management & Fire Safety – Fire Development & Human Behaviour – Part 5

March 20, 2018 11:47 am

In LWF’s blog series for those who work in facilities management, or who have an interest in or responsibility for fire safety, we have been looking at human behaviour when a fire starts and is developing. In part 4, the necessity of interesting and instructive fire safety training to impress the need for immediate and appropriate action was outlined. In part 5, we look at ‘panic’.


The thought that people react to a fire situation with panic was possibly created by fire safety training which began ‘First, don’t panic!’. While not panicking is important in an immediate and possibly life-threatening situation, the inclusion of it in fire safety training does rather imply that it’s what people would normally do.


However, contrary to widely held belief, research and analysis of human behaviour in a fire situation indicates that people generally do not panic, in the sense of the word which would be used by a professional psychologist. Panic is an episode of intense fear which causes irrational behaviour.


What has been found to be true is that people do not panic, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make decisions which might not appear to be correct, after the fact. In a fire emergency, people simply don’t have very much information on which to base their decisions. The lack of information may consist of not understanding how the situation might develop due to a lack of experience of fire, or it may be that they do not know what is happening in the building around them at the time.


This lack of good judgement can be partially remedied by good fire safety training, but as people are still reticent to blindly follow instructions without evidence to back that choice, a voice alarm system which gives information and instruction can be most helpful.


While fire safety training is valuable and should be given regularly in order to maintain its relevancy in the minds of building occupants, the lack of ‘on the ground’ information at the time of a fire can be detrimental to decision-making and eventual outcome. Live or pre-recorded information to assist people in safely evacuating the building which is helped by the provision of clear signage and pathfinding information is proven to be of real assistance.


People will, if given sufficient information, act on it accordingly and not spiral into panic.


In part 6 of this series, we look at how traditional wisdom has shaped views on human reaction to a fire situation and the potentially disastrous effect this has unwittingly had. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own facilities or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact Peter Gyere in the first instance on 0208 668 8663.


Lawrence Webster Forrest is a fire engineering consultancy based in Surrey with over 25 years’ experience, which provides a wide range of consultancy services to professionals involved in the design, development and construction and operation of buildings. 


While care has been taken to ensure that information contained in LWF’s publications is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information.


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