Emergency Exits on Campus: a Curse or a Blessing?

The purpose of emergency exits is to enhance the possibility of survival through providing a direct route to safety, usually from indoors to outdoors, during situations of heightened risk and danger. In the context of the NYUAD campus, indoor fires seem the most likely use for emergency exits. In this regard design, in the context of wayfinding, matters in terms of life and death. These emergency exits are meant to be efficient, easy and quick to use as well as visible and easily distinguishable in order to yield higher chances of survival. As such these are the aspects in which the emergency exits on campus need to be evaluated against.

Focusing on the emergency exit at the back of the Arts Center in C3, as a class we debated the sustainability of the design. It is important to highlight that the emergency exit is composed of two doors, separated by a space, which open differently. Such implementation of additional barriers in escape could potentially cause delay in reaching safety. However, testing the accessibility of the emergency doors revealed that they are easy to open with a push movement, a natural motion that a force of a crowd could generate if there was confusion on how to open the door. Crucially, the opening of the first door from the right-side directs people to space under the descending stars. During mass flow, in which confusion and panic prevails, it is inevitable for some people to be pushed under the stairs and be trapped due to the incoming inflow of people outside. As such instead of yielding access to safety to escape death, the exit increases risk and danger to the extent that it can cause death. Despite the emergency exits being well signed with a standardised illuminated green ‘exit’, visibility is an issue. This is because there was a delay in the turning on of the automotive light in the space in-between the two doors. This yielded very dark conditions and as such the light sensors need to be adjusted. Additionally, the last emergency door, unlike the first emergency door, does not have a window which further contributes to the issue of visibility in the closed inter-space between the two doors. The idea of a window could enhance wayfinding in this space through providing natural light and a visual of the outdoors which is associated with safety. This could potentially improve the flow of people during an emergency through eliminating the confusion of following the quickest way outside. The location of the emergency exit is also questioned in regards to its positioning in the building. This is because there was an earlier emergency exit and as such it can be inferred that people would take the first opportunity for exit, however, it is assumed that the emergency exit studied was included due to standardised regulations and due to it connecting with the emergency exit staircase from the first level. Yet the single door design of the emergency exit could cause congestion and delay the process of escape especially if taking into account that the exit needs to accommodate two separate flows of people, one from the ground floor and one from the first floor. It is also important to highlight the indoor location of the firehoses. As such during an emergency there will be a two-way movement, one from the outside to the inside by fire emergency services to access these firehoses, and one from the inside to the outside by the general public to reach safety. This contradicting flow is a major problem as it would stimulate a delay in both escape and emergency efforts, especially when taking into account the narrowness of the door and corridor. This problem could be eradicated if the emergency exit was replaced with double doors and the firehose access point was moved outside.

Comparing the C3 emergency exit to other exits on campus, the design of the emergency exits in the residential building of A2 can be also debated. The main emergency exit on the main floor (level 2) has a double door which can accommodate the volume of people. This would ensure an efficient flow of people outside the building without any delay or congestion. However, it is important to highlight that main emergency door, which similarly to the exit in C3 also does not have a window, is adjacent to main entrance glass doors. As such people might be compelled to use the main entrance doors instead due to the perception that lead straight outdoors despite being obstructed with barriers which could delay the escape process. This issue is eliminated with the design of the emergency exits on the sides of A2. This is because these are glass doors and as such people would be compelled to use these emergency exits to reach outside due to natural light.

From the cases studied, it is clear that despite the different areas of the campus having the same need for an efficient escape route during emergency situations, the designs of the emergency exits inhibit this as these exits are not standardised across campus to the extent that some areas of campus, C3 in particularly, are more cursed than blessed.

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