The interaction between occupants and fire alarm systems in complex buildings

Haydock, Paul J (2000) The interaction between occupants and fire alarm systems in complex buildings. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This Masters dissertation reviews the present methods of research in evacuation, various major fires are reported as part of this process. The findings of this research indicates that a delay in warning occupants in a building, to the threat of a fire, is a constant feature in fire disasters. Further the provision of early warning and an appropriate response are considered with reference to the reduction of the number of fatalities in fires.

The thesis concerns the hypothesis that people with enhanced alarm information exhibit diminished panic. The resultant technological developments such as voice alarm
messages and Informative Fire Warning systems [IFW] are reported. The effect of these systems by the minimisation of pre-movement or occupant response time in the decision
making process are studied. Effects concerning the influence of, for example, mobility and alcohol upon human behaviour are also reported.

The main thrust of this thesis is to examine the methods by which the time of evacuation to safety in complex buildings can be observed and assessed. Two evacuation experiments on a shopping centre are studied and measurements were taken using digital technology to count occupants during the evacuations. The findings of the experimental work are summarised and reported and the adequacy of the fire evacuation system is assessed. The importance concerning management arrangements and alarm systems and future research are discussed.

The two experiments were carried out using the Footfall digital counting mechanism proved very successful and the recording of all the data was carried out by the author with no additional assistance. The fire drills resulted in some interesting findings regarding occupant behaviour. The occupants appeared to place considerable trust in the information they received. The observed behaviour in the response to both fire evacuation drills in a similar environment may be explained in part by the task characteristics of the perceived emergency and the mode of cognitive processing created by such circumstances. This suggests that untrained, unprepared occupants tend to resort to informal or intuitive processing, which can be influenced by instruction from either an alarm system or by persons in authority.

The prospects for further work are the carrying-out of more evacuation experiments in order to develop reliability in the determination of pre-movement times. Further experiments would be in other types of premises of varying configurations and occupancies, using the same type of recording equipment that proved effective in the two experiments carried out.

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