Pedestrian Behavior in Evacuations – Simulation Models and Experiments

Simo Heliövaara

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


In Today's built environment, it is common that large numbers of people gather in buildings. Also evacuations of such large crowds take place frequently all over the world. Standard safety requirements for buildings cannot always ensure safe evacuation of people in such situations, and thus, computational evacuation simulations have become a common practice in building design. The currently available simulation models are able to produce quite realistic movement and egress flows. However, there has not been much focus on modeling evacuees' behavior and decision making, which may significantly affect the outcome of evacuations. This thesis develops new modeling methods to describe the behavior of pedestrians in evacuation situations. The developed models are implemented in a state-of-the-art simulation software that combines evacuation simulation with fire simulation. The models apply game theory, which is the mathematical framework for describing strategic interaction between individuals. A novel game theoretic model for occupants' exit route selection is proposed. It describes how evacuees react to the surroundings and other evacuees' actions when deciding which exit to use. Another presented model uses spatial game theory to describe pedestrian behavior and interaction in threatening and congested situations at egress route bottlenecks. The model shows that reasonable behavior by pedestrians may lead to pushing and slow down the egress flow. In addition, a new physical approach for modeling pedestrian counterflow is given. The thesis also gives the results of an experimental study on pedestrian behavior and decision making in evacuations. It is observed that, even in simple experimental settings, people are often unable to select the fastest egress route. Another interesting finding is that the participants' attempts to cooperate may lead to slower evacuation. The developed models enable building more realistic tools for evacuation simulation, which help to better assess the safety of different venues. Also, the game theoretic models improve the understanding of how crowd-level movement and phenomena emerge from the behavior and decisions of individual crowd members. The experimental results presented in the thesis provide new insights into human behavior in evacuation situations. The results of the experiments can also be used to validate computational simulation models.
Translated title of the contributionKäyttäytyminen evakuointitilanteissa – simulointimallit ja kokeelliset tulokset
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Ehtamo, Harri, Supervising Professor
  • Ehtamo, Harri, Thesis Advisor
  • Korhonen, Timo, Thesis Advisor, External person
Print ISBNs978-952-60-5683-8
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-5684-5
Publication statusPublished - 2014
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • evacuation
  • simulation
  • game theory
  • experiment
  • crowd
  • behavior

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