Dr Natalie van der Wal

Project Evacuation

Natalie van der Wal, Centre for Decision Research, Leeds University Business School

This project is being funded by a 2-year EU Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (ref: 748647), awarded to Dr Natalie van der Wal, to work with Professor Wandi Bruine de Bruin in the Centre for Decision Research, Leeds University Business School.

Background and Rationale

The EU urgently seeks to improve emergency evacuation preparedness. EU public spaces are getting more crowded. Fires and terrorist attacks require emergency evacuation. Faster evacuation from public buildings during emergencies saves more lives.

Observations of actual emergencies show that people tend to be slow to respond to evacuation alarms (taking up to 10 minutes) and take the familiar route out instead of the nearest exit.

The EU calls for evidence-based recommendations for evacuations, which are mostly non-existent. The state of the art uses computer models of evacuation speed, but more realism is needed. We take the novel approach of combining state of the art computer modeling with insights from risk communication to improve speed and survival in emergency evacuations.

A full project summary can be found on Natalie van der Wal’s website.

Project Aims and Objectives

  1. Identify which risky behaviors occur in emergency evacuations and underlying causes (WP1)
  2. Use models to identify communication strategies that improve ev
    acuation time and survival (WP2)
  3. Test communication strategies for improving evacuation time and survival in experiments (WP3)

To ultimately save lives, Aim 1 involves (a) observing behavior in existing videos of actual evacuations, and (b) interviewing emergency service members about their experiences in actual evacuations. Aim 2 will use ‘agent-based’ computer modeling, with which Dr. van der Wal has experience, to assess the effect of reducing the riskiest behaviours on evacuation time and survival rates. Based on Prof Bruine de Bruin’s expertise in risk communication and input from emergency service members, this will result in recommendations that will be tested in Aim 3 in actual evacuation drills.

Our unique team has the interdisciplinary and practical expertise needed to improve evacuations. Our proposed work will promote transfer between the Fellow and the team through hands-on collaborative work. The UK is an ideal test-bed for our project aims, but we will inform evacuations worldwide.

Evacuation project overview

View slides (left) for further information.





Core Project Members

Dr Natalie van der Wal (PI)

Professor Wändi Bruine de Bruin (Supervisor)

Dr Andrew Evans (co-Supervisor)


Advisory Board Members:

Professor Keith Still, Professor of Crowd Science, Manchester Metropolitan University

Paul Townsend, Associate Director, Crowd Dynamics

Robert Pyke, West Yorkshire Resilience Forum Coordinator, Leeds City Council

Dr Angela Kneidl, Founder accu:rate Institute for Crowd Simulations

Corinne Mycock, Centre Operations Manager Trinity Leeds



Dr Natalie van der Wal
Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow
Centre for Decision Research
Leeds University Business School
Moorland Road

Office: 1.23 Charles Thackrah Building
Phone: +44 113 343 2731
Email: c.n.vanderwal@leeds.ac.uk