Social Simulations: Evacuations

It is important to be prepared for emergency scenarios, such as evacuations of buildings, transport stations and public spaces. One way to prepare is with the help of computer simulations. Efficient design of the building and guidance of the crowd can be tested in simulations. What needs more attention in these simulation models are social aspects!

Many evacuation models assume that people are ‘rational’; when the alarm sounds, the people in the model immediately walk calmly to the nearest exit. In real life, people tend to be nervous, can walk against the flow to pick up a child or an item they left behind and even wait a long time before really starting to evacuate! A well-known experiment from social psychology shows that people are influences by other people’s behaviour: smoke filled room experiment. Another experiment also shows that people can wait a long time to evacuate fire alarm experiment.

In my research I aim to include social and cultural factors in the model such as emotional contagion, differences in ages, speed and languages. Read more about this on my projects pages: evacuation and impact. In my research I have found how these social and cultural parameters can have a large effect on the total evacuation time: up to 30%! (van der Wal et al., 2017, ‘Simulating Crowd Evacuation with Socio-Cultural, Cognitive, and Emotional Elements’). Currently I am working on finding out the intreraction effects of these social and cultural parameters mixed with the environmental factors, such as a simple versus complex environment.

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