Networking activity for Enhanced Evacuation Drills (NEED)

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Engineering and Environment

Abstract

An evacuation drill is a pre-planned simulation of an emergency evacuation for a specific scenario, with the aim of improving the performance of occupants and staff involved. Although drills are informed by safety legislation and building codes, their merits are still not well-understood, and their impact on evacuation performance not well-characterized. However, they are still seen as a key component of safety planning/building certification.

There are significant issues with evacuation drills, as currently executed:
1. The effectiveness of the evacuation drill model is not well understood.
2. Drills carry both an inherent risk to participants, and a significant cost (in terms of temporary loss of building functionality).
3. Sub-populations are often excluded from drills (e.g., those with medical issues, or mission-critical staff), which affect the potential for training and assessment.

However, the availability of new approaches/technologies such as augmented/virtual reality, computational simulation, smart sensors, building intelligence and video analytics means that we have an unprecedented opportunity to enhance the way that we plan, deliver and analyze the results of evacuation drills or complementary activities. This allows us to disentangle the training benefits and assessment of drill effectiveness, following a case-control approach comparable to research practices in evidence-based medicine - pushing towards evidence-based evacuation drills.

Here, we explore new technologies, methodologies and perspectives to (a) enhance the training component of evacuation drills (ED), (b) improve the analysis and interpretation of their results, and (c) reduce both short-term risk to participants and operational disruption. NEED will establish a consortium of experts in evacuation dynamics, fire safety, immersive tech, data science, artificial intelligence, and computational simulation, to focus on these questions:

1. What are the main training limitations of current ED?
2. What are the main assessment limitations of current ED?
3. How do these limitations vary across the buildings and populations that are subject to ED?
4. What are the alternative approaches for drill training and assessment?
5. What are the major benefits of the alternative approaches identified? How can they be quantified?
6. What are the challenges (regulatory, public perception, technical, cost etc.) in adopting such alternatives?
7. What are the next steps for ensuring these challenges are further addressed through collaboration between UK and Canadian partners?

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