Impact of Building Design Attributes on Occupant Behavior in Response to Active Shooter Incidents in Offices and Schools

Sponsor: University of Southern California
Burcin Becerik-Gerber [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
David Pynadath (Co-Principal Investigator)
Gale Lucas (Co-Principal Investigator)
Erroll Southers (Co-Principal Investigator)
Award Number: 1826443


This project studies how various factors such as building design, size and demographics of the crowd, and individual differences like one’s familiarity with the building impact responses to active shooter incidents. Fundamental questions addressed by the project include: 1) How do building attributes designed to enhance security affect human behavior during active shooter incidents? 2) How do individual factors moderate occupant responses? and 3) How does the setting of the incident or familiarity with building affect occupants’ situational awareness and occupant behavior? The project explores these objectives by conducting human subject experiments using Immersive Virtual Environments (IVEs). This scientific research contribution thus supports NSF’s mission to promote the progress of science and to advance our national welfare. In this case, the benefits will be insights to improve preparedness and response to active shooter events, which will save lives and reduce panic, anger and confusion during these events. The project supports education and promotes diversity through outreach activities aimed at recruiting and retaining under-represented students in research.

The project models the built environment in virtual reality, simulating the behavior of both the adversaries and the crowd. By exposing participants to an active shooter incident using IVE, the researchers can measure their responses in realistic ways that are not possible outside the laboratory environment. Task 1 uses IVEs and agent-based simulations to create representative virtual built environments and realistic active shooter scenarios. There are three critical elements in the development of the IVEs: building attributes that enhance security, setting (school vs. office building), and virtual actors (crowd/adversary). Task 2 examines how various factors (building design attributes, individual factors, participant role, crowd setting, and familiarity with building layout) affect responses to active shooter incidents. Simulation scenarios will include security enhanced buildings versus standard buildings, and school versus office versions. The project outcomes can inform safer building designs and operations and train occupants and security personnel on how to respond to human-enabled catastrophic events, thus saving lives.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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