The LWF Blog

Facilities Management & Fire Safety – How people act in a fire situation – Part 3

February 2, 2018 11:19 am

In LWF’s blogs for Facilities Managers or those who people who have a responsibility for or interest in Fire Safety, we have been looking at the research undertaken into human behaviour in fire situations. In part 2 of this series, we looked at the disparity between predicted behaviour and actual behaviour and how this was not recognised formally, or addressed through practical measures until relatively recently. In part 3, we’ll investigate what people actually do in response to a fire alarm.


We all know what we’re supposed to do if the fire alarm sounds. Or do we? Empirical evidence and research have both shown that people have a tendency to disregard fire alarm sounders. There are several reasons why this might happen and often it’s a combination of one or more factors which leads to inaction.


There is the assumption that the fire alarm is a false alarm and there is no fire to be concerned about.


People are prone to assume that the fire alarm is simply being tested and they do not have to take action.


They are swayed by the wish not to be seen as ‘overreacting’ by evacuating the building, when others are going about their normal business.


People do not wish to cease their current activity, be it work, a meal, a film or play.


They may feel uncertain about what the alarm means and be unsure if it indicates a fire or something else.


The likelihood of people attempting to check the facts prior to taking action to evacuate is very high. In the workplace, building occupants tend to refer to the familiar patterns of information seeking and contact reception, security personnel, their boss etc.


Practically, these research findings relate to procedures undertaken in the workplace and can be influenced by changes to the following:


 Fire procedures

 Staff training

 Visitor information

 Fire Alarm testing

 False Alarm minimisation

 Voice fire alarm systems


All fire procedures undertaken in a building must stress the importance of immediate evacuation of the building when the fire alarm first sounds. Delays in evacuation for any number of reasons impact adversely on the safety of the building occupants. All written procedures must stress the importance of discontinuing any activity they are undertaking immediately and evacuating.


In Part 4 of this series, we’ll continue to look at the practical changes which can be made to help ensure fire alarms are taken seriously. 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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