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Researchers learn more about evacuating intoxicated youth

Posted May 21, 2015

“How many beers can you drink in one hour? Two, four, or six beers?” This is not a question DTU students are asked every day—especially not when it relates to drinking free beer in the name of science.

This was nevertheless the case when the two MSc students Marlene Westmose and Anne Madsen from DTU Civil Engineering recently conducted an experiment among 35 volunteer DTU students, which was intended to clarify how intoxicated young people act and react in dangerous situations— for instance in the event of fire.


This was their second experiment, which also forms part of their MSc thesis, and the two students were looking for answers to questions such as: Do we react quickly and logically in dangerous situations after drinking alcohol, and to what extent does alcohol affect our walking pace, reaction time, and sense of balance?

The scenario was a nightclub in the Oticon Hall, which was full of happy, intoxicated young people. The participants were all volunteer students, and the combination of loud music, beer, and drinking songs helped create a realistic environment and a good atmosphere.

The experiment was carried out in collaboration with supervisor Janne Gress Sørensen, engineer at Ramboll, and Associate Professor Anne Dederichs, Master of Fire Safety at DTU Civil Engineering.

Young people killed in fatal fires
According to Janne Gress Sørensen, there are currently no scientific data in the area despite the fact that fires at nightclubs in recent years have caused many fatalities. Recently more than 200 young people died in a fire at a nightclub in Brazil, and before that, several young people lost their lives in fires at nightclubs and discotheques in Russia, Sweden, and USA.

“Being intoxicated affects our reaction time and sense of balance, and the aim of the experiment is to obtain valid data for preparing realistic evacuation plans which take into account that people react and act differently when under the influence of alcohol. This will hopefully help save even more lives in case of an emergency,” says Anne Dederichs.

To compare the reaction patterns of sober and intoxicated people, respectively, the volunteer students participated in a number of tests related to their walking pace, reaction time, and sense of balance.

In addition, their blood alcohol level was measured using a breathalyzer. The tests were initially carried out—and photographed— while the students were sober, and then they were repeated after two, four, or six drinks.

The students were video filmed during the tests, and the recordings will now be studied and analysed so the researchers can learn more about the extent to which alcohol affects our ability to think clearly and act sensibly in case of emergencies.

Facts about the experiment

The students’ walking pace was measured by having them complete a set up course. Their walking pace and the distance between the students were measured using video cameras. Their reaction time and sense of balance were measured by means of three small tests: the Flamingo test, the Up and Go test, and a reaction test carried out on a computer.

The Flamingo test implies that the subject balances on one leg for one minute. The times the subject touches the ground with the other leg is registered.

Up and Go is aimed at testing the sense of balance and reaction time. The subject must be sitting on a chair 2.45 metres away from another chair. The subject must get up, run around on the other chair, and sit down again as quickly as possible. The test is based on time.

The reaction test is carried out on a computer, measuring the subject’s ability to react when the colour changes on the screen. The test is repeated five times.

Source: DTU

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