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New report on visual safety way-guidance systems in evacuation

SP Fire Research AS has recently finished a project where they have examined evacuation in fire with regards to different types of visual safety way-guidance systems. The report is commissioned by the Norwegian Building Authority and the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection.

The Norwegian authorities have received numerous questions concerning the performance requirements and references to different standards for installation of visual safety way-guidance systems. This shows that stakeholders are experiencing uncertainty and confusion on this subject and that there may be room for improvement.

A goal of this project was to determine the appropriate theoretical basis for assessing the performance of visual safety way-guidance systems and the construction requirements associated with them.

 Three different Norwegian regulations, along with their respective guidelines and relevant standards, contain ambiguities and conflicting requirements on performance levels. Part of the problem lies in the interpretation of different wording and concepts used in legislation and other governing documents. This issue needs to be addressed in order to avoid misconceptions; it is necessary to review regulations and guidelines, improve the harmonization of concepts and references, clarify definitions, and ensure that there is only one regulation that addresses the performance level of visual safety way-guidance systems with regard to escape from fire.

During the literature review a number of studies were found that can contribute to the theoretical basis for the performance requirements in the Norwegian regulations. The main conclusions were:

  • The guiding effect from continuous way-finding information along an escape route appears to be more important for evacuation through smoke than other parameters such as illuminance and low versus high positioning of the system.
  • Low mounted safety way-guidance lines (electrical or photoluminescent) provide an evacuation efficiency equal to, or faster than, conventional emergency lighting (spaced point sources of light overhead).

Several information gaps were revealed during the literature review. On this basis we recommend a systematic study to establish an objective system for evaluating the performance of different visual safety way-guidance systems, independent of the type of system (electrical, photoluminescent or other types of solutions). A performance-based test method should be able to establish the guidance performance of a visual safety way-guidance system, i.e., how quickly people manage to evacuate to a safe location rather than just the illuminance of the components of the system.

There is also a need for studies on evacuation of large crowds from large rooms under varying conditions. Such studies can form an important basis for the evaluation of performance requirements given by the Norwegian regulations.

The report is published in Norwegian and is available online on both www.spfr.no and www.dibk.no.

Credit: SP Fire Research