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Human Behavior during Evacuations Research Paper


Human beings will react differently whenever exposed to various disasters or fire outbreaks. Engineers and firefighters have conducted numerous studies in order to understand the issues associated with human behavior during evacuation.

Different evacuation models “are critical because they determine the time take to safeguard the lives of many civilians after a disaster” (Kuligowski, 2009, p. 3). Many scholars and theorists have analyzed the major issues associated with different human behaviors.

This situation explains why many engineers have not incorporated different human behaviors into their evacuation models. According to Simonovic (2011, p. 16), “every action performed by individuals in a dangerous situation results from a unique decision-making process”.

This decision-making process has encouraged many scholars to predict different human behaviors during evacuations. This essay analyzes the current literature on human behaviors during evacuations.

Theory of Human Behavior during Disasters

Occupants in different buildings or structures will react in a specific manner after encountering a disaster. Human beings perceive specific cues before performing certain actions. The next stage is interpreting the nature of the targeted risk or situation.

This interpretation usually depends on the cues perceived by every individual in the first stage. The individuals will “eventually make specific decisions in order to deal with the disaster” (Kuligowski, 2009, p. 3). This discussion explains why human beings follow a unique process whenever making their decisions.

However, some external and internal factors determine what individuals perceive or interpret whenever there is a disaster. According to Fahy and Proulx (2011, p. 718), “the phases of disaster response will vary significantly depending on the targeted individuals, the nature of structure, and the aspects of the situation”.

For example, the occupants in a building can perceive different cues depending on the targeted disaster. Individuals can see smoke, debris, or receive phone calls from their friends. The individuals in the targeted structure or building will gather different thoughts within the shortest time possible.

The second phase of the Disaster Response Model (DRM) occurs when the individuals interpret the perceived information (Kuligowski, 2009). The individuals might also decide to ignore the above signs. They “might also decide to ignore the threat if it is not serious” (Fahy & Proulx, 2011, p. 718).

The third phase will ensure the individuals make appropriate decisions depending on their interpretations. The fourth phase will produce a specific behavioral process. This phase will ensure the occupants in the targeted building or structure perform specific actions.

The above phases will produce a unique behavioral process whenever there is an evacuation effort. A new behavioral response can also emerge if the individuals get different ideas and information about the disaster. That being the case, human beings will act in a unique manner after identifying the existing danger.

The behavior of “the occupants will depend on the manner in which they perceive the initial information” (Simonovic, 2011, p. 64). The people will “also interpret the nature of the risk and make the appropriate decisions in order to deal with it” (Simonovic, 2011, p. 104).

Human Behaviors during Evacuation

The above discussion examines how human beings make specific decisions after identifying a new disaster. Human beings will also behave in a unique manner during every pre-evacuation, evacuation, and post-evacuation process. The first human behavior that emerges after a disaster is panic.

This form of panic can be an extreme behavior that disorients the goals of the affected individuals. Some studies have examined “how different individuals will experience a tormenting state of mind after witnessing a dangerous event such as a terrorist attack” (Fahy & Proulx, 2011, p. 719).

More studies are needed in order to understand how human beings behave after interpreting the presented cues. The use of mobile phones and telephones has become a common human behavior whenever there is a disaster. For instance, a number of studies have been conducted on different human behaviors after September 11.

Many studies have identified how different evacuees communicated with their friends and relatives about the event. According to these studies, several phone calls were made to different friends, colleagues, parents, and children. According to Fahy and Proulx (2011, p. 719), “15 percent of the telephone calls were made to different emergency departments and services”.

Most of the phone calls were executed during the pre-evacuation phase. This behavior is common because many individuals will always inform their relatives after a disaster occurs. Many individuals tend to communicate with others in order to get the best support.

However, many experts have identified the dangers associated with the practice (Okaya, Takahashi, & Southern, 2013). For instance, the practice can affect the effectiveness of every evacuation process. Many occupants use telephones without understanding the magnitude of the targeted event or disaster.

This unique human behavior also occurs whenever there is a disaster. Some individuals “might form new imaginations and thoughts after experiencing the event” (Gagnon, 2008, p. 37). Some behaviors are also recorded during the evacuation phase.

The most notorious behavior “during the evacuation process is the formation of different groups” (Gagnon, 2008, p. 45). This human practice “is called Group Behavior” (Gagnon, 2008, p. 45). According to Simonovic (2011, p. 89), “over 80 percent of victims of a disaster will come together in order to form a group”.

Many individuals form such groups without their knowledge. This behavior will “depend on several factors such as the number of victims, the nature of the building, and the nature of the disaster” (Gagnon, 2008, p. 46). The agreeable fact is that many individuals will form different groups in an attempt to get the required support.

Another common behavior “observed in different emergency situations is the obstruction of human flow” (Gagnon, 2008, p. 56). The non-injured individuals in a specific building will locate different exits. Many individuals “might decide to use one pathway thus affecting the evacuation process” (Gagnon, 2008, p. 46).

Some engineers might also block different exits thus affecting the evacuation process. The problem of obstruction has affected the effectiveness of many Disaster Response Programs (DRPs). Some individuals move in the same direction without examining the existing dangers.

Human behaviors and responses to various disasters will depend on different factors. For instance, some individuals “will scramble for resources and support systems during the evacuation process” (Okaya et al., 2013, p. 5). This observation is common during every evacuation process.

The four phases of “the decision-making process will also determine the manner in which the targeted persons react to the disaster” (Gagnon, 2008, p. 46). Screaming is also common whenever the disaster is unbearable. Such behaviors can make it impossible for many rescuers and evacuators to achieve their objectives.

Sometimes the evacuees might fail to cooperate and even interfere with the rescue mission. Some people might decide to locate different exits, fire extinguishers, and alarms. Such equipments are relevant because they improve the level of communication in a building.

This approach makes it easier for more individuals to understand the facts of the disaster. This discussion explains why different behaviors are exhibited whenever there is a fire outbreak or disaster. It cannot be possible to predict the behaviors exhibited by different individuals after a disaster.

Researchers should undertake “new studies in order to understand the major issues associated with various disasters” (Gagnon, 2008, p. 74). This understanding will produce new concepts in order to deal with different events such as terrorist attacks, fire outbreaks, and floods.

Using Human Behaviors to Design Effective Evacuation Models

Many evacuation models focus on the best practices, resources, and approaches that can safeguard the lives of more people within the shortest time possible. This knowledge has encouraged many engineers to identify better ideas and strategies that can make every evacuation model successful.

The main focus of every “evacuation model is to reduce the time taken to evacuate every individual to a safer place” (Fahy & Proulx, 2011, p. 719). Some engineers have examined the effectiveness of different theories in order to produce the best evacuation processes. However, such models have failed to predict the behaviors of different individuals involved in the process.

As discussed earlier, every occupant in the targeted building will act differently depending on the nature of the event. For instance, the occupants can engage in different activities in order to help others. The individuals might also make phone calls in an attempt to collect and share different information.

The targeted persons might also be ready to deal with the disaster. For example, the occupants might decide to deal with the targeted event. According to Okaya et al. (2013, p. 5), “these practices might make it impossible for the rescuers to achieve the best goals”. Many engineers tend to ignore the behaviors of the targeted occupants. The behaviors and actions of different people can affect the evacuation process.

The actions of these people will also delay their safety and also make the evacuation process less effective. This gap explains why “engineers and scholars should generate a comprehensive and robust theory on these behaviors” (Kuligowski, 2009, p. 95).

The presented theory will ensure every evacuation strategy achieves the best results (Okaya et al., 2013). The important thing is to identify the best responses to these gaps. The knowledge of the above human behaviors will also encourage engineers and architects to design new buildings that can improve every evacuation process.

Many evacuation designs and models have failed to produce the best results because of the above gap. Human beings will react differently depending on the disaster. Engineers should undertake new studies in order to produce better frameworks for rescuing more people.

The social cues dictating the responses and decisions made by different people “can make it easier for designers to produce better structures” (Kuligowski, 2009, p. 93). This “knowledge will make it easier for engineers to have fire extinguishers and alarm alert systems in place” (Gagnon, 2008, p. 63).

Some new factors and tools have emerged in order to promote the best Occupant Escape Behavior (OEB). Such tools include “alarm systems, building designs, occupancy types, and Fire Safety Management” (Okaya et al., 2013, p. 6). These tools can make it easier for different institutions to develop the best evacuation strategies.

This knowledge can be applied in different areas such as Fire Fighting Practice (FFP) and Disaster Management (DM). Engineers can use the same ideas to quantify various human behaviors especially after an emergency. This approach will make it easier for engineers to produce better transport systems and buildings that can support every evacuation model.

Many studies have identified the factors contributing to various human behaviors during an evacuation process. The existence of various gaps and weaknesses explain why fire fighters should consider the implications of different human behaviors. The approach will address the needs of many occupants in different structures.

Gagnon (2008, p. 72) “encourages scholars to develop new conceptual models of human behaviors whenever there terrorist attacks, typhoons, and building fires”. This practice will produce the best strategies in order to safeguard the lives of many people.


Different human behaviors during an evacuation process results from several decision-making phases. The behavioral process begins when “the occupants acquire some information about the surrounding environment” (Okaya et al., 2013, p. 6).

Every human behavior will determine the effectiveness of the targeted evacuation process. Many individuals will make phone calls in order to inform their relatives about the disaster. According to Kuligowski (2009, p. 93), “other individuals will form new groups in order to overcome the challenges associated with the disaster”.

These behaviors can “offer evidence-based concepts that can support different fields such as Fire Management (FM), disaster response, engineering, and architecture” (Kuligowski, 2009, p. 14). Engineers and architects can study the behaviors of human beings during every evacuation process. This practice will produce better structures that can safeguard the lives of many citizens.

Reference List

Fahy, R., & Proulx, G. (2011). Human Behavior in the World Trade Center Evacuation. Fire Safety Science, 1(1), 713-724.

Gagnon, R. (2008). Design of Special Hazard and Fire Alarm Systems. Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning.

Kuligowski, E. (2009). The Process of Human Behaviors in Fires. Retrieved from

Okaya, M, Takahashi, T, & Southern, M. (2013). Effect of Guidance on Evacuation Behavior Simulations Using Agent Communication. Proceedings of the Workshop on Multi-agent Interaction Networks, 1(1), 1-7.

Simonovic, S. (2011). Systems Approach to Management of Disasters: Methods and Applications. New York, NY: Wiley.

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IvyPanda. "Human Behavior during Evacuations." June 24, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/human-behavior-during-evacuations/.


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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Human Behavior during Evacuations'. 24 June.

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