When planning for a building evacuation, don't overlook the most important element: peoples' behavior.

Evacuation plans are only as effective as the people charged to carry them out, according to Carl Aylen, Ph.D., and David A. Cole, Ph.D., principals and directors of The Cambridge Don, a Chicago-based research think tank and consultancy.

The researchers find that the way both building occupants and emergency response teams behave in a crisis is the principle factor determining the success or failure of an evacuation, according to a recent report in the National Safety Council's Injury Insights titled "The Implications of Behavioral Factors for Effective Building Evacuation Plans and Procedures."

Because most emergency planning ignores behavioral factors, there must be a rigorous assessment when selecting the people charged to carry out evacuation plans, according to the researchers. Only sophisticated assessment instruments, designed specifically for the purpose, can yield reliable predictions of behavior in a crisis, say the researchers.

Everyone in the building community should share in the decision-making authority and planning of hazard identification and evacuation response. This collaborative evacuation model, say the authors, ensures that building communities will be collectively alert and resilient in the face of unexpected crises.