Exploring Determinants of Pre-movement Delays in a Virtual Crowd Evacuation Experiment

Nikolai W.F. Bode*, Edward A. Codling

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
252 Downloads (Pure)


Understanding evacuations of high-occupancy buildings presents a major challenge in fire safety science. The total time individuals require to exit a building includes the time it takes them to respond to an alarm and decide to evacuate (pre-movement) and the time it takes them to walk along their chosen exit route (movement). Previous work has shown that variation in pre-movement times is responsible for substantial evacuation delays, but few controlled experiments on this have been conducted. Here, we present a virtual experiment that investigates the level of risk individuals take by collecting virtual objects before evacuating. We determine how over 1200 participants, who were recruited from visitors to the London Science Museum, respond to three factors: a reduction in their knowledge of a building, a change in the behaviour of other simulated evacuees and a change in how they are attached to the objects they can collect (potential gain versus loss). We confirm that collecting more objects is risky, as it affects evacuation success. In our experiment, 44.6% of participants choose extreme strategies by collecting either all or none of the available objects before evacuating. While the adoption of extreme strategies is affected by all three factors we investigate, the only factor that significantly increases the average number of objects participants collect, regardless of extreme strategies, is loss aversion. Our work shows the potential of virtual experiments to safely, quickly and cheaply scope processes causing pre-movement time delays in crowd evacuations. This provides a starting point for further research.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalFire Technology
Early online date19 Jun 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Jun 2018


  • Crowd behaviour
  • Decision-making
  • Emergency evacuation
  • Pre-movement time
  • Risk-taking
  • Virtual experiment


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