Business continuity and disaster recoveryEU funds disaster modeling project

Published 2 June 2008

Do people from different countries and cultures behave differently during disasters — for example, when evacuating a burning building? EU-funded research aims to find out whether different disaster-behavior patterns should influence the design of buildings and the fashioning of emergency policies

Greenwich University’s Ed Galea is part of an international team that has been awarded €2 million by the EU to develop computer models which show how people behave in a crisis. The findings will be used to help design safer buildings and develop safer emergency procedures. Greenwich University has a €500,000 share of the funding, the largest research budget of the eight partners in the project team. In this study, Galea, an expert in fire safety engineering, will compare how people behave when fleeing from emergencies in Germany, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the Czech Republic. Evacuation trials will be conducted in each country, using people of similar age and occupation, and the same type of building. “If fire breaks out on a plane, in a building or on a ship, how long will it take the occupants to get out? And do people from different countries behave differently in a crisis?” said Galea. “This research asks whether culture and ethnicity play a role in determining how people respond in disasters. Our findings will give us confidence to predict how people will behave in emergencies, knowing that our computer models are based on how real people behave. “This is important as all parts of the world are vulnerable to emergency incidents. There have been terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre, the Madrid train system and the London underground. There have been natural disasters such as earthquakes in Turkey and Japan. And devastating fires have caused deaths in many countries.”

Galea has already contributed to the design of safer structures around the world including the Sydney Olympic Stadium, the O2 Dome, and Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. His software was also used by the U.S. government authority charged with investigating the World Trade Centre 9/11 evacuation.