Redefining the role of obstacles in pedestrian evacuation

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2018
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Garcimartín, Ángel
Maza, Diego
Pastor, José Martín
Parisi, Daniel
Martín-Gómez, César
Zuriguel, Iker
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"The placement of obstacles in front of doors is believed to be an effective strategy to increase the flow of pedestrians, hence improving the evacuation process. Since it was first suggested, this counterintuitive feature is considered a hallmark of pedestrian flows through bottlenecks. Indeed, despite the little experimental evidence, the placement of an obstacle has been hailed as the panacea for solving evacuation problems. In this work, we challenge this idea and experimentally demonstrate that the pedestrians flow rate is not necessarily altered by the presence of an obstacle. This result—which is at odds with recent demonstrations on its suitability for the cases of granular media, sheep and mice differs from the outcomes of most of existing numerical models, and warns about the risks of carelessly extrapolating animal behaviour to humans. Our experimental findings also reveal an unnoticed phenomenon in relation with the crowd movement in front of the exit: in competitive evacuations, an obstacle attenuates the development of collective transversal rushes, which are hazardous as they might cause falls."
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