Home > Human Factors history and studies > Myths in emergency situations

Myths in emergency situations

Rescue of people from specific situation depends on three factors, the type of danger (e.g. fire or gas), the given infrastructure and the human. The type of danger influences the availability and risks of escape routes. The infrastructure influences in which situation people are when a danger appears and the design of escape routes accordingly, so escape routes in an underground station are different to escape routes in office buildings.

  1. Myth one – human start with the escape immediately after hearing the alarm

First the alarm signal needs to be consciously perceived, meaning it has to be differentiated from the surrounding noise. In a noisy environment sound alone can be insufficient and is enhanced with a redundant visual signal. Information perceived with more than one perceptual channel gets more attention. Even perceived it is not immediately covered with meaning (when you hear an alarm tone it may gets your attention and signals urgency but an according action or danger is not automatically known and transmitted by the alarm tone) it is needed to weather be enhanced with an announcement or trained (like fire alarm trainings in office buildings). An alarm needs to be believed as real to cause an action. A high number of false alarms lead to the “cry-wolf-syndrome” and might lead to the situation that some persons completely ignore the alarms even in case they are true. The alarm should be interpreted to call the person, if its interpreted correctly an adequate action will follow. But e.g. fire alarms bear the risk that people will than interpret them correctly if they have additional evidence through e.g. smell or see a sign of fire which leads to higher personnel risks. Nevertheless it’s the decision of the person how to behave some might despite of an alarm stay there as visitor of the event.

  1. Myth two – correct adherence to safety guidelines guarantees the safety of users in a flight situation

Safety guidelines are written on a general level to be applicable for a greater area. They provide a minimum set of measures required to be implemented for safety. Some aspects of the specific situation might not be covered as their content is general. For a specific situation it needs to be and the implemented measures to be validated ensuring an adequate level of safety.

At another point safety is undermined by the users themselves. So during daily use escape routes might be blocked by office equipment and escape doors kept open. Good design considering the use of the environment could avoid such faults. Further safety awareness needs to be learned practiced regularly so a regular training can also help.

  1. Myth three – Existing emergency exits are used equally

Simulation of escape situations assumes all emergency exits to be used equally by the people. However, under stressful situations all senses are focused on the escape and people tend reduced resources for thinking and just take the way the entered as emergency exit. Additional workload through new environments is avoided this way. Further escape route signs and alternate routes that the person might sees daily get ignored as unused information (learned irrelevance).

Escape doors should be attractive and good illuminated without any alarms in emergency cases. This can be contrary to the usual situation where they are ignored. Analysis of the escape routes should be a direct way outside avoiding people think about a shorter route (see myth 4).

  1. Myth four – Humans do not run through smoke

Toxic gases are a great risk in case of a fire, breathing carbon monoxide can lead to death in short time. Nevertheless humans also go through smoke to help other persons, but also in some cases because they underestimate the risk and want to take the shortest route.

  1. Myth five – Emergency situations lead to panic which causes an egoistic behaviour in humans

Mass panic is a phenomenon related to a bad relation between space in the environment and number of people. If people get stuck and new people urge to get into the room it can lead to panic. People then see no other option then to escape. However avoiding the critical factors of space and number of people, people tend to help each other in emergency situations. Research is going on to understand situations where people just think about survival and fall back in this mass behavior described as panic.

Source and more informaton (German): http://www.gesine-hofinger.de/

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