25 Sep 2019

The Biggest Challenge in Emergency Lighting: Giving Information that Actually Helps People Escape.

LuxLive asked Steve Gwynne, an expert in pedestrian dynamics and human behaviour in fire, for his opinion on the biggest challenge in emergency lighting. 

Having worked for the US and Canadian governments, academic institutes across the globe and in consultancy across aviation, maritime, rail and built environments, his background sheds light on the needs of humans in fires. 

I see this from the perspective of its impact on evacuee response and their capacity to reach safety. There is a huge opportunity facing emergency lighting in this regard. 

As a starting point the biggest challenge is to be better integrated into emergency systems and to take advantage of the ongoing data collection and processing developments underway. Lighting can become a more active participant in the emergency procedure which will make our buildings safer.


How is the emergency technology landscape changing? 

Other emergency provisions are evolving quickly in tandem with the general explosion in data availability and computational technology. Buildings are increasingly becoming data collection systems with embedded sensors enabling gathering of more complete and timely information on an incident and on the evacuation status. Evacuation procedures can then reflect the evolving scenario to ensure that the guidance effectively informs the evacuation process

“Evacuation procedures can then reflect the evolving scenario to ensure that the guidance effectively informs the evacuation process.” 


How do you envisage emergency lighting fitting into those systems?

We know that emergency lighting has to function in its traditional sense, ensuring sufficient lighting levels, but we have the capacity to move beyond that. Reacting to the environmental conditions would ensure that it more effectively illuminates egress paths. For instance, the precise nature, location, and extent of the lighting could adapt according to the severity and location of the smoke present. 

In addition, the emergency lighting system should be developed to provide information beyond illumination. A key issue is that emergency lighting helps emergency egress by illuminating egress paths. However, this does not ensure that the route actually leads to a place of safety. It might be taking someone to the fire’s origin.

“It might be taking someone to the fire’s origin.”


What should we be working towards, as an industry?

As a solution various technologies (e.g. LED) might be used to both illuminate and direct evacuees (e.g., floor lights that sequence illumination in the direction of safe travel). Additionally, sensed data, suitably analysed, might indicate that a route leads to dangerous conditions. Therefore, lighting on adjacent routes could be configured to trail away from the danger. There are many opportunities ahead and I look forward to discussing them with my colleagues . 


Steve will be speaking at the Emergency Lighting conference, part of LuxLive, where he will be joined onstage by Keith Todd, Fire Safety Officer at UCL. Together they will present an analysis of human behaviour in fire from both a research-based and practical delivery point of view. 


Human behaviour in fire – evacuee decision-making and response in fire emergencies and what it means for us
Re-frame emergency lighting as part of a bigger picture by understanding how people respond in fire emergencies,  why they do what they do and what external factors – including visual cues – affect their response. Deepening our understanding of evacuee behaviour will help us take a more empathetic and nuanced look at how emergency systems work in such incidents and how our work may enhance such emergency systems.

Keith Todd, Fire Safety Officer, University College London
Steve Gwynne, Research Lead, Movement Strategies

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