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Utah State University examines emergency evacuations of people with disabilities

The Salt Lake Tribune
By Patty Henetz

Nearly a quarter of the people evacuating the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, had some sort of disability that slowed them down. The same proportion of New Orleans residents caught in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were disabled.

Nearly one-fifth of all U.S. residents have limited physical mobility. But when engineers design office buildings, sports arenas and airports to make them safe for pedestrians trying to leave during an earthquake, fire or flood, the computer models base assumptions on a generic able-bodied 20-something.

That avatar is inadequate, say Utah State University researchers, who for a decade have been working to include disabled people in design assumptions. Their work has paid off in the form of a recently awarded federal grant for nearly $600,000, helping them to simulate emergency evacuations that include more diversity in computer modeling...

Keith Christensen, co-investigator on the project and assistant professor in the landscape architecture and environmental planning department, says only a few other schools in the world are doing the same type of research...

Christensen already has developed a model that predicts how a “standard” person will evacuate a building in an emergency. One of his co-researchers, Yong Seog Kim, an associate professor in USU’s Jon M.an emergency. One of his co-researchers, Yong Seog Kim, an associate professor in USU’s Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, develops software that can mimic human characteristics and demonstrate what people would do in a real emergency.

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