Human behavior in an emergency situation is the starting point for all evacuation planning projects. A better understanding of the decisions made by the occupants during an emergency can help to develop calculation tools that can create more efficient forms of visual and audio communication and implement better procedures for evacuating people. The difficulty in studying human behavior lies in the very nature of emergencies, as they are unpredictable, somewhat exceptional and not reproducible. Fire drills play a role in training emergency teams and building occupants, but they cannot be used to collect real data on people’s behavior unless the drill is so realistic that it could endanger the occupants’ safety. In the procedure described here, through the use of a Virtual Reality device that encompasses all critical phases, including user characterization data before the virtual experience, building design parameters and fire scenario, key variables of human behavior can be recorded in order to evaluate each user’s experience satisfactorily. This research shows that the average delay in starting an evacuation is greater than one minute, that anxiety levels and heart rates increase during a fire and that people do not pay attention to evacuation signals. Further analysis of the quantitative data may also provide the causes for decision-making. The use of devices that create realistic virtual environments is a solution for conducting “what if” tests to study and record the decisions taken by the users who undergo the experience in a way that is completely safe for them.
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