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Studies carried out by the Fire Research Station in the United Kingdom on human aspects of fires fall mainly into seven areas (indicated in the following paragraphs by italics).
Research on perception and acceptability of risk indicated that people have a fairly accurate perception of the relative severity of various hazards. They believe that most accidents are due to the faults of the victims, and they are unwilling to spend much money to reduce such hazards. On the other hand, many people do feel strongly about hazards which are outside their control. The assessment of monetary value placed on human life and the use of this value in fire protection economics are discussed with examples.
Research on human behavior in fires casts doubts on current behavioral assumptions and data which have implications for safe building evacuation. Information initially available to people regarding the possible existence of a fire and its size and location is often ambiguous and inadequate for taking appropriate action. People involved in fires rarely panic or behave entirely irrationally. This conclusion led to the current investigation on the nature and effective methods of presentation of appropriate information through microprocessor-controlled informative fire warning systems to ensure clear comprehension of alarm warnings and rapid and safe evacuation of the building. Research also has been carried out on methods of calculating the evacuation times of leaving buildings.
By investigating actual (serious) fires in domestic and group-residential buildings, Fire Research Station is studying people's environmental background, their actions prior to ignition, their involvement in ignition, their contribution to the fire's growth and spread, and their response to discovering the fire, fighting it, and escaping from it. A number of social and housing conditions affect the incidence of fires in dwellings: proportion of children in care, tenure (owner or tenant), and lack of amenities. Severe weather conditions during winter inflict greater loss of life among elderly females, especially those living alone.
fires, buildings, human aspects, perception of risk, acceptability of risk, value of life, human behavior, evacuation times, fire investigation, socioeconomic factors, severe weather conditions
Head, Operational Research and Systems Studies Section, Fire Research Station, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire