Date of release: Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Medal of Distinction for Fire Safety Engineering GroupWorld-leading research which could help save lives in passenger ship emergencies has seen the University of Greenwich's Fire Safety Engineering Group receive a prestigious honour.

The group was awarded a Medal of Distinction by the Royal Institution of Naval Architects for a paper which analysed passenger response time data, based on five full-scale 'live' assembly drills while at sea.

University researchers collected the response times of more than 2,300 people during its semi-unannounced drills, making this the largest response time data-set ever collected either on land or at sea.

The study forms part of a four-year international project called SAFEGUARD, funded by the EU's FP7 programme to the tune of more than three million euros. It was set up to analyse ship evacuation procedures – in particular, the length of time it takes passengers to respond to an alarm, and then to assemble – and to improve current evacuation analysis practices.

In the SAFEGUARD project the university worked in partnership with three passenger ship companies, a marine classification society, three evacuation model software developers and two maritime research organisations from six countries.

The prize-winning paper was published in the International Journal of Maritime Engineering, the institution's official publication. It was entitled Passenger Response Time Data-Sets for Large Passenger Ferries and Cruise Ships Derived from Sea Trials.

The authors are Professor Ed Galea, Dr Steven Deere and Lazaros Filippidis of the Fire Safety Engineering Group, and their PhD student Robert Brown.

Professor Galea, the group's founder and director, who collected the award at a presentation event held at the Royal Institution of Naval Architects' headquarters, says the research created nothing less than a piece of maritime history. "We captured realistic response times to an alarm, with an unprecedented number of passengers who were spread over various decks while actually at sea, and were largely unprepared as it sounded.

"All of this represents a significant difference from a typical assembly trial, which is heavily announced beforehand, which takes place before the ship sails, and where many of the passengers are already at the assembly points simply waiting for the drill to begin."

The research will help shape future maritime law, as the findings have been submitted to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and will contribute to future international guidelines for ship evacuation.

Earlier this year, Greenwich won a top prize at the Guardian University Awards for the work of the Fire Safety Engineering Group in developing a new type of emergency signage system. Known as Active Dynamic Signage Systems (ADSS), these signs could revolutionise evacuation procedures and help to save lives in emergency situations.

The multidisciplinary team at Fire Safety Engineering Group, based within the Faculty of Architecture, Computing & Humanities, consists of engineers, mathematicians and behavioural psychologists. The group is a world leader in aircraft, ship, building and rail evacuation, and fire modelling. Its projects have ranged from analysis of the World Trade Center evacuation to the design of the Airbus A380.

For more information on its work:

Story by Public Relations