Evacuation behaviors and emergency communications: An analysis of real-world incident videos

C. Natalie van der Wal*, Mark A. Robinson, Wändi Bruine de Bruin, Steven Gwynne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
76 Downloads (Pure)


Emergencies such as fires and terrorist attacks pose risks of injuries and fatalities, which can be exacerbated by delayed, ill-informed, or unmanaged responses. Effective emergency communication strategies could be used to better inform people and reduce these risks. This research analyzes videos of real-world emergencies to: (a) identify people's observed behaviors that increase risk during evacuations, and (b) examine which emergency communication strategies might reduce risk behaviors. We analyzed 126 publicly available videos of emergency evacuations in different emergencies (e.g., fire, terror attack, evacuation alarm, perceived threat). We found evidence of three types of risk behaviors (delayed response, filming, running) and four emergency communication strategies (evacuation alarm, staff guiding people to exits, general prerecorded message, live announcement). Our analyses suggest that having staff guide people to exits is the most effective strategy for promoting faster and more effective responses. However, neither live announcements nor pre-recorded messages were associated with delayed responses, while evacuation alarms were associated with more delayed responses than other communication strategies. Although people filming the incident was unrelated to staff interactions, it occurred more with alarms sounding and prerecorded messages, suggesting that these emergency communications might not prevent filming. Compared to no communications, all emergency communication strategies reduced running during evacuations. We discuss the implications of this research for identifying effective emergency communication strategies and reducing risk-increasing evacuation behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105121
JournalSafety Science
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Crowd behavior
  • Crowd management
  • Emergencies
  • Evacuation
  • Risk communication
  • Video analysis


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