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The Process of Human Behavior in Fires



Erica D. Kuligowski


Evacuation models, including engineering hand calculations and computational tools, are used to evaluate the level of safety provided by buildings during evacuation. However, there is a lack of available data and theory on occupant behavior for use by evacuation models when producing evacuation time results. In lieu of data and theory, evacuation models (and users) make assumptions and simplifications about occupant behavior (i.e., what people do during evacuations) that are unrealistic and can produce inaccurate results. Therefore, evacuation models are incomplete and oversimplified they do not account for actual occupant behavior during buildings fires. The solution to this problem is to generate theory on human behavior during evacuation from building fires. Therefore, this paper briefly describes the process in which occupants engage before any evacuation action is performed and then discusses in more detail the cue- and occupant-related factors that influence phases of the process. An understanding of this process and its factors enables the development of theory on human behavior during evacuations from building fires that can be used to improve current evacuation models and their accuracy in simulating fire events, and allow for the development of predictive models in the future.
Technical Note (NIST TN) - 1632
Report Number


human behavior, building fires, evacuation, egress


Kuligowski, E. (2009), The Process of Human Behavior in Fires, Technical Note (NIST TN), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed July 13, 2024)


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Created May 15, 2009, Updated February 19, 2017