Factors associated with high-rise evacuation: Qualitative results from the world trade center evacuation study

Robyn R.M. Gershon, Kristine A. Qureshi, Marcie S. Rubin, Victoria H. Raveis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Due to the fact that most high-rise structures (i.e., >75 feet high, or eight to ten stories) are constructed with extensive and redundant fire safety features, current fire safety procedures typically only involve limited evacuation during minor to moderate fire emergencies. Therefore, full-scale evacuation of high-rise buildings is highly unusual and consequently, little is known about how readily and rapidly high-rise structures can be evacuated fully. Factors that either facilitate or inhibit the evacuation process remain under-studied.Objective: This paper presents results from the qualitative phase of the World Trade Center Evacuation Study, a three-year, five-phase study designed to improve our understanding of the individual, organizational, and environmental factors that helped or hindered evacuation from the World Trade Center (WTC) Towers 1 and 2, on 11 September 2001.Methods: Qualitative data from semi-structured, in-depth interviews and focus groups involving WTC evacuees were collected and analyzed.Results: On the individual level, factors that affected evacuation included perception of risk (formed largely by sensory cues), preparedness training, degree of familiarity with the building, physical condition, health status, and footwear. Individual behavior also was affected by group behavior and leadership. At the organizational level, evacuation was affected by worksite preparedness planning, including the training and education of building occupants, and risk communication. The environmental conditions affecting evacuation included smoke, flames, debris, general condition and degree of crowdedness on staircases, and communication infrastructure systems (e.g., public address, landline, cellular and fire warden's telephones).Conclusions: Various factors at the individual, organizational, and environmental levels were identified that affected evacuation. Interventions that address the barriers to evacuation may improve the full-scale evacuation of other high-rise buildings under extreme conditions. Further studies should focus on the development and evaluation of targeted interventions, including model emergency preparedness planning for high-rise occupancies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-173
Number of pages9
JournalPrehospital and Disaster Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2007


  • World Trade Center
  • disasters
  • evacuation
  • high-rise buildings
  • human behaviors
  • human factors
  • organizational factors
  • workplace disasters

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Emergency


Dive into the research topics of 'Factors associated with high-rise evacuation: Qualitative results from the world trade center evacuation study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this