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Good evacuation maps can save lives

10 March 2009

Good evacuation maps save lives. Ineffective evacuation signage can confuse users and can be fatal during emergencies.
One key problem with existing map design is the use of a single reading orientation for all maps in all locations. The orientation is typically ‘north-up’, which at least gives some orientation. However, the results are that when travelling south, the next exit on the left in reality is on the right.

Good evacuation maps can save lives
Good evacuation maps can save lives

Further complications arise when, in an attempt to make the evacuation map more relevant to the user, copies of the buildings 2-dimensional CAD floor plans are used. These often fail to be oriented to the basic ‘north-up’ level, compounding confusion and resulting in false information being presented to the reader.

The aim of any evacuation map is to aid the safe egress from a building to an area of safe shelter. Correctly oriented, user-centred evacuation maps remove many of the barriers to effective wayfinding and aid successful evacuations.

To compare any map to the real world, the map has to be mentally noted and rotated to fit the building space as it is presented to the user. This can be difficult and time consuming, especially for children, elderly and for those with cognitive impairments this task is virtually impossible. Every second that the occupant is delayed increases the risk that they lose their life.

Effective evacuation or emergency wayfinding is accomplished by providing easy to interpret, informative signage at key decision points from the user’s location to a place of safety.

As buildings become more complex, the need to introduce efficient wayfinding solutions that aid navigation increases. During emergencies effective navigation to a place of safety is vitally important. The lack of detailed knowledge of these complex environments or being in unfamiliar surroundings hinders a safe and effective evacuation. Such complex environments result in the occupants becoming unaware of the most suitable means of escape, often opting to make use of the most familiar exits such as building entrances, ignoring closer or more appropriate emergency exits. The provision of effective evacuation maps in complex environments is essential for aiding emergency wayfinding and reducing the amount of time required to evacuate.

Evacuation Maps should provide clear, concise information that the occupant may not have previously been aware of, providing options, suggestions and the opportunity to decide on the best possible route for evacuation.

Existing wayfinding aids in the built environment may be difficult to access. For those that read in a different language, text based instructions are barriers. If the information is not provided in formats accessible to a wide range of abilities, their effectiveness is compromised. The provision of inaccessible signage during an emergency is a significant and foreseeable risk to the safety of the occupants of that building.

In an attempt to overcome these barriers, maps can be provided as an aid to wayfinding. Whilst a significant improvement on the text based approach, many people have problems interpreting 2 dimensional maps which require mental translation and relation to a three dimensional space.
3D, egocentric (the tendency to perceive, understand and interpret the world in terms of ones self) or ‘birds-eye’ overview allows the user to view the building from various vantage points. These aid the interpretation of the map, allowing people to quickly locate emergency equipment and exits in direct relation to their location and direction of travel.

This 3D overview provides a more dynamic image that facilitates faster, easier to recognise and more intelligibly perceptible and useful information than the standard "flat" 2 dimensional floor plan.

Symmetrically designed buildings, whilst seemingly simplistic, can prove confusing during evacuations unless specific visual references are made to their internal and external orientation. These environments benefit from the designation of exit zones, colour coded exits and evacuation maps that clearly mark paths to the closest and alternate emergency exits.

Evacuation maps should be placed in relation to the path of travel. It is important to ensure that the maps are placed at regular intervals rather than relying on one centrally accessible map. This is especially important in large or complex buildings.

With an ever varying risk profile, the assumption that all emergency exits are available is one that introduces significant risk to the safe evacuation of the buildings occupants. With the increasing number of non fire related incidents necessitating the closure of one or more emergency exits, the need to navigate from a closed exit to the next closest safe exit needs careful consideration and planning. Failing to provide adequate guidance at these exit points compromises the safety of occupants unfamiliar with the floor layout and location of alternative exits.

The reliability of Evacuation information is critical to the safe evacuation of the buildings occupants. Information should be legible and accurate. Changes to the buildings infrastructure or internal layout should be reflected in the relevant evacuation maps at the time of the change. Failure to maintain the maps in line with building changes introduces foreseeable risk.

All public information becomes a part of the occupant’s information on how to use and navigate the environment. The representation of this public information needs to be consistent to be clear. Evacuation maps must agree with facility maps and current floor plans. With occupants attending meetings in other buildings or floors, this consistency aids the quick identification of evacuation instructions and facilitates effective evacuations in potentially unfamiliar environments.

Evactools are leaders in the provision of evacuation products and solutions with a key awareness of the fire-related compliance issues confronting commercial property owners and managers. They offer professional solutions to building evacuation requirements.

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