The LWF Blog

Facilities Management & Fire Safety – Fire Development & Human Behaviour – Part 6

March 29, 2018 2:12 pm

In LWF’s blogs 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 develops in the surrounding environment. In part 5, the proven fact that while regular fire safety training is important, the provision of information at the time of a fire can be more valuable in ensuring a safe evacuation was explored. In part 6, we discuss the mistaken belief that if you make people aware of a fire, they will automatically become panicked.


Historically, disastrous and terrible incidents, such as the terrorist attack and resulting fire at the World Trade Centre in 2001, have shown that while people were fearful, there were very many instances of rational behaviour and care for other people. The assumption that such horrific circumstances would lead to irrational and chaotic behaviour in those people involved is generally unfounded.


In the past and for as long as there have been fire safety guidelines, it was thought that giving the public ‘too much information’ about a fire situation in the early stages would lead to panicked and irrational behaviour. Indeed, some codes indicate that general fire alarm sounders should not be used in case it causes panic, although they do concede that a voice alarm system may not do so.


However, while it is true that a voice alarm system can instigate a more prompt and efficient evacuation, this is largely because it provides information that a traditional fire alarm sounder does not. The sound of a fire alarm bell often fails to provide the necessary impetus for people to make a prompt decision to evacuate. It may be that they are used to it, from fire drills, or that they assume it is a false alarm.


Areas of academic research into how people react in a fire situation and inquiries into fire disasters which have occurred concur that there is no reason not to give people in a building or area information about a fire which has started.


Indeed, events such as the fire which devastated a club near Dublin called ‘Stardust’ in 1981, causing 48 fatalities, have shown that had a little more urgency been injected into the instructions to evacuate, lives might have been saved.


The consensus that research and actual events have reached is that information assists those people in a fire situation to make the necessary decisions to quickly evacuate the building and reach a place of safety.


In part 7 of this series, LWF will look at the role of staff and management in a building in terms of their responsibility in a fire situation. 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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