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Building Occupant Safety Publications

Building Occupant Safety, Selected Publications

Design and Construction of Building Exits

Soon after the Iroquois Theater Fire (1906), the Rhoades Opera House Fire (1908), and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (1911), the engineering and building code community in the United States began to consider the movement of people subsequent to an unwanted fire. By the 1930's, more sophisticated concepts for evacuation (e.g., flow rate for occupants leaving the building) were being developed. These concepts, along with the now-ubiquitous 1.2 m (44 in) stair width, were documented in 1935 by the National Bureau of Standards (NBS, now NIST) report "Design and Construction of Building Exits." The landmark 1935 NBS report substantiates recommendations for exit system design based on surveys distributed to practicing architects, field inspections, citations to previous investigations as far back as 1909, as well as simple observations of exits and exit component usage during rush-hour and fire drill evacuation conditions for contemporary building designs. These recommendations constitute the primary basis for current egress requirements, though modifications have resulted from large-loss incidents, as well as subsequent research (e.g., the work of Templar, Pauls, Predtechenskii and Milinskii, and Fruin).

Design and Construction of Building Exits

Occupant Behavior

Along with the considerable effort in collecting and understanding movement during evacuation, NIST is involved in the study of human behavior during fires and other emergencies. An understanding of emergency human response and decision-making will provide foundation for future codes and standards requirements as well as improve techniques used by evacuation models to more accurately simulate occupant behavior during fire evacuations.

Occupant Behavior in a High-rise Office Building Fire

Modeling Human Behavior during Building Fires

The Process of Human Behavior in Fires

Mass Notification Messages: Workshop Proceedings

Developing Emergency Communication Strategies for Buildings

Infrastructure of Building Egress

New technologies, design challenges, and research are rapidly redefining the state‐of‐the‐art in building evacuation. NIST is involved in understanding engineering design choices related to egress from buildings, including both stair and elevators egress systems. This research has formed the technical basis for significant revisions to building code provisions that consider the impact of all aspects building design including the use of elevators by occupants and first responders, appropriate design of stairs, the use of refuge areas, and other active and passive fire protection measures that may be included in a building design.

RETHINKING EGRESS: A VISION FOR THE FUTURE; Workshop Proceedings, April 1-3, 2008, Warrenton, Virginia

Economics of Egress Alternatives and Life-Safety Costs

Overall and Local Movement Speeds During Fire Drill Evacuations in Buildings up to 31 Stories

Questioning the linear relationship between doorway width and achievable flow rate

Five Grand Challenges in Pedestrian and Evacuation Dynamics

Research on the Use of Elevators During Fire Emergencies

Modeling Occupant Egress from Buildings

Evacuation calculations are increasingly becoming a part of performance-based analyses to assess the level of life safety provided in buildings. In some cases, engineers are using back-of-the-envelope (hand) calculation to assess life safety, and in others, evacuation models are being used. NIST research in understanding the limits of existing models and developing new capabilities is providing the engineering community with more robust models appropriate for a range of design needs.

The Faults with Defaults

Representing Egress Behaviour in Engineering Terms

A Review of Building Evacuation Models, 2nd Edition

What a User Should Know When Selecting an Evacuation Model (Fire Protection Engineering, Fall 2005)

"Computer Evacuation Models for Buildings." in The SFPE Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering Fourth Edition, available from

Created August 15, 2012, Updated January 6, 2017