Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Stair evacuation of older adults and people with mobility impairments



Erica D. Kuligowski, Richard D. Peacock, Emily Wiess, Bryan Hoskins


Engineers analyze occupant movement data for the safety and protection of a population during emergency building evacuations. Quantifiable variables, such as: stairwell geometry, pre-evacuation delay, occupant speed, and population density form engineering models that can predict the performance of an egress system’s building design, emergency planning, and event reconstruction. Researchers have constructed several robust models for able-bodied populations; however, barely any egress movement data exists for individuals with mobility impairments. To refine current evacuation models and develop a better understanding of all types of occupant movement and behavior during evacuations, the Engineering Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) accumulated fire drill data from fourteen high-rise office and residential buildings. This paper presents the movement speeds and behavioral data of residents evacuating a six-story assisted living facility located on the East Coast of the United States. The building’s population comprised of a diverse array of elderly and disabled residents descending the stairwells by the following methods: self-evacuation without assistance, assistance using a cane, assistance from another occupant or firefighter, or assistance using a stair chair. Movement data of these specific groups will be compared and contrasted with other data collected on mobility impaired individuals. In the current study, NIST observed overall average speeds ranging between 0.11 to 0.29 m/s, which approximate the speeds of disabled and elderly people found in earlier studies. These data provide an adequate confirmation of exiting literature values typically used for disabled movement speeds in addition to updated values for future analyses.
Fire Safety Journal


fire safety, egress, building evacuation, stairs, disabled, elderly


Kuligowski, E. , Peacock, R. , Wiess, E. and Hoskins, B. (2013), Stair evacuation of older adults and people with mobility impairments, Fire Safety Journal, [online], (Accessed July 17, 2024)


If you have any questions about this publication or are having problems accessing it, please contact

Created October 31, 2013, Updated November 10, 2018