Household Decision Making and Evacuation Behavior during Wildfires

Household Decision Making and Evacuation Behavior during Wildfires


As wildfires that threaten communities become more severe, there is an increasing need to understand human behavior in these situations, and evacuation decision-making and behavior in particular. A number of deaths have occurred in previous fires during the evacuation process. These deaths have been linked to delayed warnings or delays in following evacuation advice, which in turn resulted in evacuees leaving late and encountering dangerous conditions in the process. This talk will begin with a discussion on why we need to study evacuation – more specifically, how an improved understanding of evacuation can assist in better response planning prior to a fire and improved warning decisions during a fire event. Next, research will be presented on evacuation decision-making of households and the factors that influence these decisions (including the role of notification). Based upon our current knowledge, best practices for notification during wildfires will be presented. The talk will conclude with a discussion on current research gaps and potential research questions for scholars interested in conducting evacuation research in the future.

Erica Kuligowski

Formerly of the National Institute of Standards and Technology

RMIT University (as of October 2020)


Dr. Erica Kuligowski is a Sociologist and Fire Protection Engineer with 18 years of experience studying human behavior in disasters, including building fires, wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes. From 2002 to 2020, Dr. Kuligowski worked as a Group Leader, Research Social Scientist and Engineer in the Engineering Laboratory at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). While there, she received Department of Commerce Gold and Bronze Medals for her social science contributions to the federal investigations of the 2001 World Trade Center disaster, where she studied the evacuation of building occupants; the 2003 Rhode Island Nightclub Fire, where she performed evacuation modeling to recreate evacuation scenarios of the fire event; and the 2011 Joplin, MO tornado, where she studied emergency communication systems and public sheltering response. Most recently, Dr. Kuligowski has published a series of articles on evacuation decision-making and behavior during the 2016 Chimney Tops 2 fire in Tennessee. Dr. Kuligowski has expertise in decision-making and response behavior under imminent threat, emergency communications, and evacuation modeling. In October of this year, she will move to Melbourne, Australia to join the Engineering School at RMIT University as a Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow studying evacuation and bushfires.

Twitter: @ericakul

Seminar Recording