Smart crowd evacuation in emergencies
Protecting large crowds is a key public safety priority. An EU-funded project has developed an evacuation platform to support responders in guiding crowds away from danger should an emergency arise, thereby saving lives.
© stockfoto, #65457805, 2019. source: stock.adobe.com
Although significant progress has been made on the design of venues hosting large crowds as regards safe access and evacuation, current evacuation plans do not take account of the effect of crowd dynamics. Emergencies can cause panic, creating stampedes and crushes and exacerbating danger.
Under such circumstances, it is vital to get a complete view of the situation and establish a clear command chain of human and technical resources to evaluate the risk and evacuate the scene in a controlled way.
Combining sensors, geospatial and contextual information technologies and crowd-behaviour detection models, the EU-funded eVACUATE project has developed a platform to predict crowd behaviour and manage evacuations so as to prevent a crisis from turning into a tragedy. It is backed up by data on previous incidents and virtual reality simulations to enhance preparedness.
A decision-support system communicates with command posts as events unfold, allowing evacuation plans to be modified accordingly. Clear, concise instructions can then be transmitted quickly to emergency services and the crowds, cutting response times by over 15 % and evacuation times by 20 % or more.
The main goal was to develop a platform to enhance situational awareness by providing people in crowds with location-based, real-time, personalised guidance, adapted to the latest evolution of the incident, says project coordinator Dimitris Petrantonakis of Exodus SA in Greece. We also aimed to increase responders effectiveness in leading crowds to safer areas, while reducing collateral damage and human error, and restoring security more quickly in and around the site.
Crowd-behaviour detection models developed under eVACUATE use visual, thermal and hyperspectral imaging to produce data which, combined with psychological analysis of crowds, has led to the identification of new indicators of unusual collective and individual behaviour. A software tool forecasts potential crushes and generates the best evacuation routes.
The simulation platform gives decision-makers a clear picture of situations before, during and after evacuations in indoor and outdoor environments by gathering and displaying information from various sources. A communication gateway enables different applications to interoperate efficiently, minimising the need to integrate other decision-support systems with the platform.
eVACUATE has also formulated the Smart Spaces concept, which provides situational awareness and dynamic routing by installing innovative sensors and displays in public places. The entire system was validated in four pilot scenarios: a football stadium, a cruise ship, an airport, and an underground station.
eVACUATE strengthens coordination between emergency services by providing a single response mechanism, transforming police, fire brigades and medical teams into a cohesive force, as well as creating wider socio-economic benefits.
The platform reduces the costs of disasters since effective response leads to substantial cost savings. It also increases perception of security, especially in times when the threat of a terrorist attack is considered imminent, explains Petrantonakis. Furthermore, it frees civil protection organisations from costly vendor lock-ins and opens up the market for other players providing new equipment, applications and services. As eVACUATE is a modular system, civil protection organisations can choose their equipment based on their own requirements, such as pricing, performance and bandwidth.
In addition, the project represents a step towards EU-level standardisation of evacuation equipment and processes. An agreement between eVACUATE, the European Committee for Standardisation and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation will contribute to development of standardisation activities, ensuring continuity of efforts, concludes Petrantonakis.