Fire Technology

, Volume 53, Issue 4, pp 1641–1668 | Cite as

Human Response to Emergency Communication: A Review of Guidance on Alerts and Warning Messages for Emergencies in Buildings

  • Hidemi Omori
  • Erica D. Kuligowski
  • Steven M. V. Gwynne
  • Kathryn M. Butler
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Fire Science Reviews


The purpose of this article is to provide guidance on enhancing human response to emergency communication. This guidance can, in turn, help engineers improve the design of emergency notification and messaging systems, which, as a result, can help inform occupant response, reduce occupant evacuation time, and increase occupant safety. The article begins with a literature review on how people respond to emergencies. The Protective Action Decision Model, which describes the decision-making process that precedes human response in disaster events, is used as a framework for the literature collected as part of this review. This model is divided into three pre-decisional and five decisional processes. The method used to create the guidance document is then explained, including the six steps taken to review the literature collected (from 162 engineering and social science sources), generate findings from this literature, and compile the key statements found in the guidance document. Guidance on alerts, visual/audible warnings and dissemination of warning messages are provided. These are organized according to alert/warning type and dissemination method. The findings of the literature review include five guidance statements on alerts, 16 guidance statements on visual warnings, seven guidance statements on audible warnings and eight guidance statements on the dissemination of warning messages. Finally, guidance on emergency message testing, including language, readability and fire drills as a means of response testing, is provided. It is envisioned that this guidance will inform practitioners on the design of future emergency communications and subsequently enhances evacuee performance through a better understanding of the manner in which emergency information is processed and the tools available to provide such information.


Emergency communication Alerts Warnings Guidance Human response Occupant evacuation Occupant response Emergency notification Emergency messaging Mass notification 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.JENSEN HUGHES, Inc.ArlingtonUSA
  2. 2.National Institute of Standards and TechnologyGaithersburgUSA
  3. 3.National Research Council CanadaOttawaCanada

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