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Obstacles Near Emergency Exits Speed Evacuation 199

Posted by Soulskill
from the george-carlin-would-agree dept.
BuzzSkyline writes "Despite fire codes that require emergency exits be clear of obstacles, some types of obstacles actually speed evacuation. The counterintuitive conclusion resulted from a series of experiments performed at a TV studio in Japan. Researchers from the University of Tokyo asked 50 volunteers to exit the studio through a narrow door. Video tapes of the experiments show that people made it out quickest when a pole was placed about 30 degrees to one side of the exit. The lead researcher believes an obstacle reduces jamming and friction among people in crowds by decreasing conflicts as the crowd presses toward the exit. A paper describing the research is scheduled to appear in the journal Physical Review E in September, but a preprint is available on the Physics Arxiv."
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Obstacles Near Emergency Exits Speed Evacuation

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  • Old news (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:30AM (#29155957)

    Keep your eyes open and you'll see plenty of real world applications of this principle already in place.

  • by mysidia (191772) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:35AM (#29155997)

    This is actually a lot more useful than much of the trivial research universities sometimes do.

    Their findings can save lives...

  • by Angst Badger (8636) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:37AM (#29156011)

    It's shocking that anyone in this day and age still finds it surprising when scientific experiments produce counterintuitive results. So-called intuition and common sense are usually nothing more than widely held but unquestioned assumptions. That people involved in software as much as Slashdot readers and contributors should be surprised is even more absurd. We ought to know well that intuitive interfaces are really familiar interfaces; the only really intuitive interface, as some wit once remarked, is the nipple.

    In any case, knowledge unverified by scientific experimentation is not knowledge at all. If there is anything surprising here, it is that we made it all the way to 2009 before someone thought to conduct experiments on a matter as important to public safety as emergency exits.

  • Re:Old news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Heed00 (1473203) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:41AM (#29156037)
    That doesn't make it old news. Can you provide evidence the principle has previously been articulated?

    Perhaps next time you could provide some actual examples/citations/references rather than just effectively saying, "I knew that".

    I've seen plenty of obstacles in place to route/control footfall traffic, but none that I can think of to speed up egress. You have examples of those?
  • by Kjella (173770) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:43AM (#29156047) Homepage

    The biggest issue with a real emergency situation is panic. People being squished against fences, walls and other obstacles because there's too many people behind squeezing, making it more dangerous and less efficient. Same is really for people being trampled, it's very dangerous and almost impossible to help someone being trampled back on their feet in such a crowd for the risk of not getting up yourself. I'd be very careful placing obstacles which might lead to more well-behaved behavior in scientific tests (left, right, left, right, that's so much better) but would be very danerous in a real panicking crowd.

  • It Makes Sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StormyMonday (163372) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @12:03PM (#29156187) Homepage

    Think of it as impedance matching.

  • by RepelHistory (1082491) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @12:35PM (#29156385)

    In any case, knowledge unverified by scientific experimentation is not knowledge at all.

    I'm for science as much as anyone on this site, but don't you think that's a bit of an exaggeration? You can't learn ANYTHING except through the scientific method?

    So-called intuition and common sense are usually nothing more than widely held but unquestioned assumptions.

    We DID actually evolve intuition for a reason. It's obviously not right all the time, but there's a reason why we're told to "go with our gut." Intuition is the means by which we pick up all those hundreds of subconscious signals that would otherwise slip by. It's kind of important.

    Oh and one more thing while I'm on this tangent: the scientific method uses intuition as part of its process. All scientific experimentation begins with a hypothesis, and without intuition, scientists would be totally unable to come up with a hypothesis to test. Try it: using ONLY deduction, try to think of a hypothesis to test for an experiment. Sorry for the off-topic post, I juar felt like this needed addressing.

  • by Keebler71 (520908) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @12:36PM (#29156397) Journal
    it's not counter-intuitive to anyone who has studied gas dynamics.... they've rediscovered the "nozzle" [wikipedia.org]
  • by evanbd (210358) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @12:39PM (#29156409)
    You don't have to set the place on fire. It suffices to offer a monetary reward for getting out soon enough. Of course, you still have the problem of people hurting themselves / each other in the experiment, but that does show it's realistic enough for most purposes.
  • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @12:40PM (#29156421)

    Just do it for Money or Prizes. Heck set up these studies on Black Friday in Anytown USA.

    1 Entrance to Walmart at 10 different locations. 5 with poles, 5 without. 2-50" Plasma TV's for $100 at each location...

  • by value_added (719364) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @01:17PM (#29156635)

    So-called intuition and common sense are usually nothing more than widely held but unquestioned assumptions ... We ought to know well that intuitive interfaces are really familiar interfaces; the only really intuitive interface, as some wit once remarked, is the nipple.

    I'd suggest that anyone who is a pediatrician or has otherwise observed a new mother trying to teach her baby how to breast feed would classify the "nipple as intuitive interface" line as not only an unquestioned assumption, but also one that's wrong.

    Put simply, the nipple, to use your terminology, is a familiar interface. The familiarity happens very early, and there's a wealth of factors that motivate it, but still it's something that's learned.

  • by mysidia (191772) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @01:45PM (#29156807)

    Yes, there are some differences.

    The extent of the difference could depend on how high the pole is mounted, e.g. how hard it is for people to step over, crawl underneath, or get around the pole.

  • Re:(very) Old news (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dmartine40 (1571035) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @03:25PM (#29157387)
    While this looks like the result of such a design, I wonder if the effect it has on crowds isn't distraction? I would guess that a wide-open exit route, while giving people all the room necessary to evacuate, may also (inadvertently) give them the "freedom" to guage their movement and personal space relative to each other. In a big enough group, it wouldn't take much, or long, to turn an evacuation like this into chaos. Could that be where excessive crowding would occur?

    But place a big enough obstacle along the route and these people could refocus their navigation around one static object, rather than on the less predictable movement of others in the crowd.

    This is pure speculation of course.

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