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Theory Building: An Examination of the Pre-evacuation Period of the 2001 WTC Disaster



Erica D. Kuligowski


This paper presents a portion of the author’s PhD dissertation involving a qualitative study of occupant behavior in response to the 2001 World Trade Center (WTC) disaster. Through analyses of transcripts from 245 face-to-face interviews with survivors from both WTC towers, collected by Project HEED, the author investigated the pre-evacuation period in what became the largest full-scale building evacuation in history. The objectives of this study were to understand the types of actions performed before occupants began evacuation via stairs and elevators and why those actions were taken to improve techniques used and to address inadequacies in evacuation modeling tools. On 9/11, occupants consistently developed new social norms and lines of action based upon the meanings that occupants assigned to the situation, including perceptions of risk, familiarity with the building and others in the building, and responsibility for others. These meanings were dependent upon the receipt of environmental cues as well as on pre-existing norms, experiences, training, and social roles.
Conference Dates
September 18-21, 2012
Conference Location
Conference Title
2012 Human Behaviour in Fire Symposium


behavioral modeling, conceptual modeling, human behavior in fire, World Trade Center


Kuligowski, E. (2012), Theory Building: An Examination of the Pre-evacuation Period of the 2001 WTC Disaster, 2012 Human Behaviour in Fire Symposium, Cambridge, -1 (Accessed May 24, 2024)


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Created September 18, 2012, Updated February 19, 2017