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Building Occupant Safety

Graphic showing high-rise fireHistorically, building egress systems have evolved in response to specific large loss incidents. Currently, systems are designed around a concept of providing stair capacity for the largest occupant load floor in the building with little or no consideration of occupant behavior, needs of emergency responders, or evolving technologies. Aggressive building designs, changing occupant demographics, and consumer demand for more efficient systems have forced egress designs beyond the traditional stairwell-based approaches, with little technical foundation for performance and economic trade-offs. In cooperation with the U.S. General Services Administration and other government and private organizations, NIST is working to establish a technical foundation for egress provisions that eliminates egress design as a contributor to fire deaths and minimizes the total social cost of the provisions. .

Building Occupant Evacuation Data

As part of a program to better understand occupant behavior during building emergencies, the Building and Fire Research Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been collecting movement data on stairs during fire drill evacuations of office and residential buildings. These data collections are intended to provide a better understanding of this principal building egress feature and develop a technical foundation for future codes and standards requirements. As of December 2012, NIST has collected data from 14 buildings ranging from six to 62 stories in height. A paper on some of these evacuations is available.

Overall and Local Movement Speeds During Fire Drill Evacuations in Buildings up to 31 Stories

NIST is also releasing people movement data from six of the buildings; specifically Building 1 (two stairs), Building 4 (two stairs), Building 5 (two stairs), Building 6b(four stairs), Building 7 (four stairs), and Building 8 (two stairs). These data include details for more than 4400 individual building occupants who took part in full building evacuations in these buildings comprising nearly 13,000 individual observations.

Building Occupant Egress Data (NIST Report of Test 4024)

Conventions in the Collection and Use of Human Performance Data (NIST GCR 10-928)

Forms and Templates from the report appendices

Simple Estimates of Building Egress Time

NIST has developed a simple tool that combines estimates of stairwell and elevator egress timing to provide an overall estimate of evacuation from buildings. It is based on methods developed in the Society for Fire Protection Engineers Handbook for egress using stairwells and the work of Klote and Alvord on modeling elevator evacuations.

Simple Estimates of Combined Stairwell / Elevator Egress in Buildings

Download Egress Estimator Software


In addition to the collection of data from building evacuations, NIST is active research on human behavior during emergencies, engineering requirements for safe building egress, and egress modeling. A range of publications are available from this research.

Selected Publications on Building Occupant Safety