Human behavior during fire and emergency situations remains one of the areas often misunderstood, if considered at all. Even professionals who work daily to ensure the safety of building occupants have a very limited understanding of human response to emergency situations which they may face. If these professionals have a limited understanding of the concepts of human behavior in these situations, how can we begin to expect the owners of businesses and management to have even given the topic any consideration?
Information has been gathered over the last 50 years through various studies of building occupants and interviews or surveys taken from individuals who have been involved in major incidents. These range from psychological studies conducted in controlled environments to extensive surveys of survivors from incidents, including the World Trade Center attacks. These studies have given valuable insights into the behavior of individuals faced with survival, "fight or flight", recognized real life threatening situations. As relatively simple, and yet detailed, as this information is the lessons learned from these studies to this day largely remain tucked away in text and reference books awaiting the light of day to be discovered and the valuable information applied.
The most certain outcome of understanding this information will be the saving of countless lives by applying the knowledge and understanding of this most important aspect of human behavior. In a day and age when psychological studies support the marketing efforts of countless major corporations it is regrettable that we have not utilized the knowledge in the area of emergency response toward the preservation of our most valuable resource…people. Most assuredly, countless lives could have been saved who today would be contributing and productive members of their communities if the knowledge in this area were being properly understood and applied. While we will never be able to fully know the true cost to our society, and even the world, for the tragedy of not understanding and applying this knowledge, rest assured, the cost should be considered a great one.
And so, in the time that we have available during this session, let us all learn what we can toward understanding this vital area of life safety. But more than that, we must take what we learn here today, and seek opportunities to apply the principals of this understanding and effect changes in our approach to the safety of building occupants.
In the development of our codes, standards, and approach to life safety we have largely been reactive. When a major incident occurs, studies are conducted to determine what the cause of the large loss of life could have been, and then documents published to provide guidance, and even laws, to prevent the incident from occurring again. Such recognizable incidents as the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, Cocoanut Grove Fire, Our Lady of Angels School Fire, Beverly Hills Supperclub Fire, World Trade Center Attacks, and The Station Fire, all have been driving forces in attacking the problem of loss of life from such tragedies.