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Individual-specific risks in evacuation: women and children first?

Nikolai bode

Nationality German

Year of selection 2012

Institution University of Essex

Country United Kingdom

Risk Socio-Economics

Post-Doctoral Fellowship

2 years

120000 €

In Nikolai's own words...

Crowd disasters, for example during the evacuation of crowds from enclosed spaces, claim many victims every year. Previous research has largely investigated crowds as a whole. In contrast, I focus on the individual-specific risks posed by the crowd dynamics of evacuations. For example, accidents could occur as a result of differences in behaviour, physical, cognitive or social circumstances.
I address the following questions: How does crowd composition affect individual and group movement decisions in the context of evacuations? How and why do physical, mental or social circumstances, such as age or the presence of family members, increase the risk to the well-being of individuals in evacuations? What is the effect of initial conditions (e.g. position of seating) on the individual-specific risk during evacuations? What is the effect of evacuation strategies, such as evacuating women and children first, on the general and individual evacuation?

My research uses a combination of simulation models and controlled evacuation experiments with volunteers. I introduce differences between individuals in a controlled way by placing participants in wheelchairs, for example. The findings from controlled experiments on the time taken for different individuals to reach safety, for example, are likely to hold and be exacerbated under emergency conditions and therefore provide a lower limit for individual-specific risks in evacuation that can be extrapolated.
My project will allow the identification of individual-specific risks in the dynamics of escaping crowds. This will increase the predictability of crowd evacuation dynamics for inhomogeneous groups of people and I will additionally investigate the efficiency of different evacuation strategies. In the long term, this work could result in preventative measures directed at particular risk groups. For example, the appropriate location of designated family seating areas within sports stadiums could be established.
To communicate my research to the public and to decision-makers in particular, I will publish results of my research in scientific journals and present at national and international conferences. I will also develop my simulation model into an interactive evacuation computer game that will demonstrate aspects of my research by allowing players to move one pedestrian during a simulated crowd evacuation. This computer game illustrates my research in an interactive and intuitive way and could be used as an educational tool. Finally, I plan to organise a workshop inviting scientists, health and safety officials and senior policemen and firemen to prepare a short information sheet on the individual-specific risks in evacuation.

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