Centre for Elderly and Nursing Home Medicine (SEFAS)

What should we do when the nursing home is burning?

Emergency evacuation of buildings requires fast and effective decision making to be successful, while an adequate number of exits can help mitigate safety risks because smoke and crowded exit routes reduce pedestrian moving speed and may create panic and confusion. For nursing home patients, there might be an even increased risk caused by reduced mobility and need for wheelchairs and walkers, and confusion caused by cognitive impairment and dementia.

IEEE Supplementary Material

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Main content

Understanding specific behavioral response under extreme situations can significantly affect an evacuation. Agent-based models are a good candidate for crowd behavior forecasts because pedestrians can be simulated by individual agents.

As a complex system, the dynamics of a crowd emerge from local interactions between the human participants. Evacuation dynamics show special stress conditions, which propagate along the crowd through mechanical (with the environment, e.g., running into walls) and social interactions (e.g., observing the agitation of another person). Current approaches usually reduce the individuals partaking in the crowd to particles without dynamics or decision-making capabilities. However, in a real-life situation, each pedestrian makes individual decisions that are influenced by the environment, the other crowd participants, their own psychological and physiological responses, etc. This behavior requires modeling each participant with a certain level of autonomy and agency.

To illustrate this concept, we published an article that proposes a predictive agent-based crowd simulation model to analyze the outcomes of emergency evacuation scenarios taking into account collisions between pedestrians, smoke, fire sprinklers, and exit indicators.

The crowd model is based on a decentralized control system structure, where each pedestrian agent is governed through a deliberative-reactive control architecture. The simulation model for evacuation includes a routing-based control system for dynamic-guided evacuation. A design case illustrates the modeling process. Results show that the crowd simulation model based on agent autonomy and local interactions is able to generate higher level crowd dynamics through emergence.