To leave an area after disaster: How evacuees from the WTC buildings left the WTC area following the attacks

Rae Zimmerman, Martin F. Sherman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How people leave a devastated area after a disaster is critical to understanding their ability to cope with risks they face while evacuating. Knowledge of their needs for communications about these risks is particularly crucial in planning for emergency responses. A convenience sample of 1,444 persons who survived the World Trade Center (WTC) attacks on September 11, 2001 were surveyed to ascertain their initial and ultimate destinations once they had left the buildings, how they arrived there, the role of types of obstacles they encountered, and the need for information and the seeking of other people as potential factors in influencing the process of leaving immediately. This survey was part of a larger, original survey. Results showed differences in how people traveled by mode to initial and ultimate destinations, how immediately they left the area, and factors associated with when they left. How they traveled and when they left were associated with where people lived, their tendency in times of stress to seek out other people including who they knew in the immediate area (e.g., co-workers or friends), the physical conditions surrounding them, and the importance to some of waiting for more information. Many people indicated they did not leave immediately because they had no information about where to go or what services would be available to them. Perceptions and communications about risks they were facing were reflected in the choices they considered in how and when to leave the area. These findings have numerous ramifications for understanding and guiding personal behavior in catastrophic situations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)787-804
Number of pages18
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Emergency response
  • Evacuation
  • Risk communication
  • September 11, 2001
  • Terrorism
  • World Trade Center

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Physiology (medical)


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