Investigating Evacuation Behaviour in Retirement Facilities: Case Studies from New Zealand

In considering the evacuation, in the event of a fire occurring, of both new and existing buildings it is essential that professionals reflect on the demographic changes taking place within the global context. 


Ageing populations are generating new challenges for the safe design of buildings and infrastructure systems in communities around the world. Elderly building occupants are more likely to have mobility impairments, and in turn, require longer times and increased assistance to evacuate buildings compared with able-bodied adults. To date, only a few studies have been carried out to assess the evacuation performance of elderly evacuees in retirement homes. Therefore, it is necessary to collect critical
evacuation data, such as pre-evacuation times and evacuation speeds, for these occupancy types.

This work investigates the evacuation behaviour of elderly evacuees and caretaking staff using video
recordings of evacuation in retirement facilities. The paper presents three case studies. The first case
study includes unannounced drills, which took place in communal areas of retirement homes during a
live music exhibition and in a kitchen. The second case study is a series of unannounced drills, which
took place in independent living apartment buildings of a retirement facility. The last case study is of a
single announced evacuation drill, which took place in a communal area of a retirement building.
Qualitative results indicate that the occupants’ behaviours depended on their role (i.e. resident or staff)
and on the type of monitored area (i.e. apartment building or communal area). Pre-evacuation times
measured in this study are in accordance with values stated in the literature, and walking speeds fall in
the range of values reported in past studies of these types of building. Finally, results revealed that the
use of fundamental diagrams from the SFPE Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering to assess the gap
between the data provided in this work and the design curves used for buildings having mainly of adults
with not walking impairments.

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