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When it comes to surviving a building fire, some people are more equal than others: Prof Galea responds to Lord Greenhalgh

Ed Galea

Ed Galea - Director FSEG University of Greenwich


The first phase of the Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry recommended that Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) for those unable to self-evacuate should be mandated for high-rise residential buildings. But at the 3rd reading of the Building Safety Bill in the House of Lords, the minister, Lord Greenhalgh, threw the government’s commitment to PEEPs into doubt [1]. The fact that almost five years on from the Grenfell disaster, he appears to lack understanding of how PEEPs can be implemented practically, cost effectively and safely, suggests a tenuous grasp of fire safety.

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Slide from the FSEG 5-day short course, 'Principles and Practice of Evacuation Modelling' – note that the average speed of the evacuation chair, carrying a 75kg PRM down the stairs, was 0.83 m/s, which is faster than most people would walk down the stairs

Is Lord Greenhalgh serious when he asks whether disabled people can be evacuated from a tall building before the fire service arrives? Or whether the evacuation of disabled people will impede others [1]? I have undertaken detailed studies of high-rise building evacuations, such as the WTC 911 [2] and the Grenfell Tower fire [3], and in both cases, people with disabilities were assisted by strangers (WTC 911) and family/friends (WTC 911 and Grenfell) to evacuate before the fire and rescue services (FRS) intervened. Furthermore, there are devices and means to assist in the evacuation of people with mobility disabilities, such as the evacuation chair [4,5,6], that can provide a fast means of assisted evacuation, without any additional impediment to the evacuation of others [4,5,6]. It is also worth noting that not all people who are mobility-impaired require a movement assistance device to help them down the stairs, and not all disabled people are mobility-impaired. 

FSEG evacuation experiment involing the use of an evacuation chair on a crowded stair  

Finally, while I agree that society cannot introduce safety measures at any cost, measures suggested by PEEPs need not incur excessive additional costs. Surely the lives of disabled and able-bodied people have exactly the same value. Being required to wait for rescue by the FRS, while others evacuate, potentially exposes disabled people to unacceptable and unnecessary risk.

In an ideal world, buildings would enable safe evacuation for everybody, but as long as architects and engineers continue to design buildings that can only be evacuated by a sub-set of the population, and legacy buildings are not made evacuation-friendly for all, PEEPS currently represent the only way to level up building evacuation on a mass scale. As the government in England and Wales and parts of the industry continue to prevaricate on the PEEP issue, it appears that some people are more equal than others when it comes to evacuation.  

For additional information concerning means of evacuation for disabled persons, please see [7 -11].


(1) Building Safety Bill, Third Reading, 15:44, 4th April 2022,

Extract from Hansard of the speach by Lord Greenhalgh ‘The Government ran a consultation on the issue of personal emergency evacuation plans—PEEPs—in July 2021. The consultation has made clear the substantial difficulties of mandating PEEPs in high-rise residential buildings around practicality, proportionality and safety. On practicality, how can you evacuate a mobility-impaired person from a tall building before the professionals from the fire and rescue service arrive? On proportionality, how much is it reasonable to spend to do this at the same time as we seek to protect residents and taxpayers from excessive costs? On safety, how can you ensure that an evacuation of mobility-impaired people is carried out in a way that does not hinder others in evacuating or the fire and service in fighting the fire?’.

(2) Web pages concerning the FSEG study of the WTC evacuation, project HEED.


(4) Adams, A.P.M and Galea, E.R., “An Experimental Evaluation of Movement Devices used to assist People with Reduced Mobility in High-Rise Building Evacuations”, Pedestrian and Evacuation Dynamics 2010. 5th International Conference. Proceedings. March 8-10, 2010, Springer, New York, NY, Peacock, R.D., Kuligowski, E.D., and Averill, J.D., Editor(s), pp 129-138, DOI 10.1007/978-1-4419-9725-8_12, 2011. 

(5) Hunt, A., Galea E.R., and Lawrence, P.J., “An Analysis of the Performance of Trained Staff Using Movement Assist Devices To Evacuate the Non-Ambulant”, Proceedings of the 5th International Symposium, Human Behaviour in Fire, Cambridge UK, 2012, Interscience Communications Ltd, ISBN 978-0-9556548-8-6, pp 328-339, 2012.

(6) Hunt, A., Galea, E.R., Lawrence, P.J., An analysis and numerical simulation of the performance of trained hospital staff using movement assist devices to evacuate people with reduced mobility, Fire and Materials, Vol 39, Issue 4, pp 407-429, 2015,

(7) Presentation concerning evacuation assist devices presented at the Human Behaviour in Fire Conference held in the UK in Sept 2012.

(8) Question and Answer session related to (7).

(9) Presentation concerning evacuation assist devices presented at the PED 2010 conference March 2010. Note this is part 1 of three parts, the other two parts to the presentation can also be found on the FSEG youtube channel (

(10) Joyce, M.S., Lawrence, P.J., Galea, E.R., Hospital Evacuation Planning Tool for Assistance Devices (HEPTAD), Fire and Materials, 25 May 2020,

(11) Hunt, Aoife L. Galea, Edwin R.; Lawrence, Peter J.; Frost, Ian R.; Gwynne, Steven M. V.; Simulating Movement Devices Used in Hospital Evacuation, Fire Technology (2020), published online, 21 March 2020,


Published by

Ed Galea
Director FSEG University of Greenwich
Is Lord Greenhalgh serious when he asks if disabled people can be evacuated from tall buildings before the FRS arrives? As UK Government and parts of the industry continue to prevaricate on PEEPs, it appears that some people are more equal than others when it comes to evacuation. #community #people #firesafety #fireservice #peeps #disabilityawareness #disabled #ife #fireengineering #disabilityinclusion #housing #management #grenfell #ukgovernment #houseoflords #houseofcommons #ukparliament #homeoffice #buildingsafetybill #buildingsafety #fireandrescue #socialhousing #firefighter 
Nice photo, I purchased the standard stock photo a few years ago and had a graphic designer add smoke to it for our website use.
In my opinion, PEEPs are effectively useless in residential buildings. Why? Because PEEPs require someone to implement them in an emergency. When people live alone or have family members not at home at the time of the emergency such as being at work or shops, who will implement the evacuation? Building managers cannot be expected to undertake the role of emergency rescuer as they have as much right as everyone's else to get out as quick as possible

This is a post I wrote on the evacuation of people with disability in residential buildings
Ed Galea ♿Bruce Bromley This is in response to your comment starting 'Linkedin keeps cropping messages'.
(1) ‘….. in workplace environments, colleagues can assist with the evacuation of fellow staff with a disability’. So why can’t friends and neighbours in residential buildings provide assistance? Do people suddenly lose part of their mental ability or their ability to care for others when they leave the office?
(2) Compartmentation and progressive horizontal evacuation does not always work e.g., Royal Marsden Hospital Fire in London in 2008. But hospitals and care facilities are a different issue, my thesis addresses residential buildings.
(3) ‘…not trained in emergency rescue? ….they should not put their own lives at additional risk….’. PEEPs ARE NOT ABOUT RESCUE, they are about EVACUATION
(4) ‘In residential apartments, should building managers be responsible?’ No, but in the UK, the Responsible Person should be required to put in place a PEEP which may require the involvement of buddies to assist in the evacuation of neigbhours. The PEEP would also identify the training required by the buddy.

I seem to have to keep on making the same points over and over again.
I too seem to be making the same point Ed, that it’s all about ‘care’ and not ‘just’ the ‘duty’ of care, the latter being about compliance, whereas the former is about affection for our fellows, whether it be the home ‘family’ or the work ‘family’.
Great post Ed Galea. Post-Grenfell, many have asked why lifts cannot be more widely used for evacuation. Although the usual approach for "standard" lifts is "in the event of fire do not use the lift", a lift suitably designed and protected by the building can be used for evacuation. Currently British Standards describe a driver-controlled evacuation lift in BS 9999:2017 Annex G. A number of people have proposed an automatic evacuation operation which could be useful in cases where a rescue team (including a driver to take control of an evacuation lift) is not available or would have a long mobilisation time. There is work ongoing on standards that would provide options of automatic evacuation lifts in addition to the current BS 9999 model of a driver-controlled lift evacuation. Where a rescue team would not be available, and subject to suitable building design measures, such an automatic evacuation operation could allow the early self-evacuation by those who need it. Lift and Escalator Industry Association LEIA
(3/3) Continuing my comment on evacuation lifts in response to the comment from Nick Mellor.
(5)Kinsey, M.J., Galea, E.R., and Lawrence, P.J., “Modelling Human Factors and Evacuation Lift Dispatch Strategies”, Proceedings of the 5th International Symposium, Human Behaviour in Fire, Cambridge UK, 2012, Interscience Communications Ltd, ISBN 978-0-9556548-8-6, pp 386-397, 2012.
(6)Kinsey, M.J., Galea, E.R., and Lawrence, P.J., “Stairs or Lifts? - A Study of Human Factors associated with Lift/Elevator usage during Evacuations using an online Survey”, Pedestrian and Evacuation Dynamics 2010. 5th International Conference. Proceedings. March 8-10, 2010, Springer, New York, NY, Peacock, R.D., Kuligowski, E.D., and Averill, J.D., Editor(s), pp 627-636, DOI 10.1007/978-1-4419-9725-8_56, 2011. 
(7)Kinsey, M. J., Galea, E.R., and Lawrence, P., "Investigating the Use of Elevators for High-Rise Building Evacuation through Computer Simulation". Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Human Behaviour in Fire, Robinson College, Cambridge, UK, 13-15 July 2009, pp. 85-96, ISBN 978-0-9556548-3-1.
Hi Ed Galea Your original post was about PEEPs and my reply was about evacuation lifts provided for the evacuation of people who are not able to evacuate by stairs. Thanks for the additional references which tend to look at the wider use of lifts for the evacuation of all users. This is a much more specialised (and onerous) use of lifts more relevant in tall buildings and not covered by the current standardisation work I mentioned. 
Disabled People's Right to Escape from Fire - In 2017, 72 people died in the Grenfell Tower fire in UK - Many where Disabled
How would you feel if you were left behind in an emergency?

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