BURNING DOWN THE SILOS: INTEGRATING NEW PERSPECTIVES FROM THE SOCIAL SCIENCES INTO HUMAN BEHAVIOR IN FIRE RESEARCH

Published: August 31, 2016

Author(s)

Erica D. Kuligowski

Abstract

The field of human behavior in fire (HBiF) is founded by and has deep roots within the field of fire protection (or safety) engineering. The influence of engineering has had both positive and negative impacts on the field of HBiF. A positive impact is that our research has clear and direct influence on the life-safety design of buildings and other structures around the world. However, our research tends to focus on the aspects of HBiF that engineers most care about (e.g., evacuation or movement dynamics that occur during the response phase of a building fire), which can be limit our overarching goal – i.e., life safety of all individuals before, during and after fire. The social sciences can provide many benefits to the field of HBiF. In this paper, I explore three main benefits of integration with the social sciences. First, I argue that the social sciences can help us to delve further into insights already uncovered, in turn, expanding our depth. I present examples of studies (and/or theories) from the fields of social psychology and sociology that would enable our field to expand our thinking and research into the non-engineering or “unobservable” aspects of HBiF during a fire event. Next, I argue that the social sciences can provide insight into new areas of research; in turn, expanding our research scope. In this section, I introduce pre- and post-fire studies, and explore potential research questions that fall outside of the response period of a fire (i.e., the phase upon which we place the most focus). Third, I argue that the social sciences can help us to understand the proper research techniques and methods available to study human behavior, especially highlighting qualitative research methods. These three benefits will allow researchers in the field of HBiF to collect a wider range of data, further develop and/or expand our current behavioral knowledge, and in turn, increasing our impact in both social and engineering applications. Finally, I end with
Citation: Fire and Materials
Pub Type: Journals

Keywords

human behavior, fire, research methods, sociology, psychology, preparedness, recovery, response
Created August 31, 2016, Updated November 10, 2018