Dynamic and Adaptive Evacuation Signage, The Time is Now Interviewing Bernard Ashford from Evaclite, an insight into dynamic and adaptive signage

If people’s safety in an emergency isn’t your priority, why not? In a world where the news is dominated by terrorism, catastrophic storms and life-threatening fires, Evaclite is advocating for dynamic signage to become the norm. 

Walk into any public building and there will be emergency exit signs, but let’s consider this question, did you see them? The honest truth is, probably not. We’ve been told about emergency exit signs and routes out of a building since we were children and it’s something that’s ingrained in our brains. Visit any hotel and there will be an emergency exit map stuck to the back of the door, but how many of us take the time to read it?  

Emergency exit signs fall victim to something called ‘learned irrelevance’. We’ve been so exposed to emergency exit signs for our whole lives that we’ve learnt to ignore them. We know they’re there and subconsciously we know their importance.  However, because we don’t deal with fires very often, we forget that they might happen. 

12 years ago, Evaclite’s co-originator; Brian Stevens had a light bulb moment when trying to exit a hotel. When struggling to find the best route out, he came up with the idea of Dynamic exit signage. 12 years on and Evaclite is still innovating, with new ideas and with new products in development. Evaclite is dealing with enquiries and shipping dynamic emergency exit signage and to hotels, tall buildings, office spaces, residential blocks and Rail Tunnels around the world. In 2018 Evaclite won ‘FIRE Product Innovation of the Year’ at the IFSEC/FIREX ‘Security and Fire Excellence Awards’ and continue to win prestigious awards for their innovation

In an exclusive interview with Evaclite’s Bernard Ashford, he gives us a little more insight into the importance of dynamic and adaptive signage. 

Firstly, what exactly is dynamic signage?
Dynamic and adaptive signage, although it has been around in some form for a decade or more, is only just emerging into the UK mainstream New Building Specification market.  Therefore, people are only just beginning to get their heads around how it works and why it is so effective. The main advantages of these signs is that instead of being ‘passive’ like conventional fire exit signage , they are both ‘dynamic’’(and therefore much easier to see and react to) and ‘adaptive’ meaning they respond to changes in their environment making them capable of routing people away from danger and unsafe exits towards safe ones.

For example, if someone is trying to exit a building during a fire and the fire is actually in the corridor or stairwell of their nearest exit, the signs will adapt to show a RED Cross indicating that the exit route is unsafe.  They will then be redirected via a Dynamic sign with a Green pulsing arrow to the nearest SAFE EXIT. The signs receive their instructions from the Fire panel, applying cause and effect programming acting upon input signals from smoke and heat detectors throughout the building. So, if the stairwell has been determined as unsafe, due to the concentration of heat and/or smoke, the person will be pointed towards a safe one.  The safe exits will be identified through the use of a pulsing dynamic green arrow to confirm to people that the exit is safe. 

How do you know the signs actually improve people’s safety?

We have been involved in a number of academic, evacuation trials.  These proved that 60% of people don’t even notice passive signs during an evacuation - they just don’t see them. It all comes down to what is known as ‘learned irrelevance’. When you see something every day it loses its impact. It’s not something that’s relevant to you now, so you block it out and gradually this becomes a learned behaviour. Our signs were used during a trial at the University of Greenwich under the GETAWAY project. Participants had to escape via the corridors with only the standard ‘passive’ signs present and the majority of people didn’t notice them, and if they did, they didn’t follow the way that the sign recommended.

The trial was then replicated but this time, we installed Evaclite dynamic exit signage and the impact was significant - twice as many people saw the signs. The majority of the people not only noticed but also verbally acknowledged the signs. The key in this trial was the time it took to make the decision. In the first ‘passive’ trial, on average, it took participants 6 seconds deciding which way to go. When using dynamic signs, they didn’t even have to stop and think they just acted.  These few seconds could be vital in a real fire or emergency. Evaclite was awarded the Guardian Award for Research & Impact at the University of Greenwich for their work on the GETAWAY project using their Dynamic Signage. 

Is it compliant with the regulations?

As a UK manufacturer, we deliver our product to the highest standards and meet all existing standards and regulations for design, production and installation of Emergency exit luminaires. It is important to us that all our products are robustly tested, and Our dynamic signs are tested by the LIA, a well-respected industry Test Lab and are fully compliant with IEC 60598-2-22. ISO 30061, ISO 3864-1 & ISO 3864-4. 

We also satisfy the recommendations and guidance of  BS 5266-1:2016 Code of practice for the emergency escape lighting of premises. 

Most recently in August 2019 and perhaps most importantly BS 7273-6 Code of practice for the operation of fire protection measures was published.  This standard specifically addresses Dynamic signage ‘’If an exit route becomes unsuitable for use, a directional safety signage system (DSSS) can be used to warn occupants in accordance with the fire strategy for the premises’’  This is a significant step forward in promoting confidence that Dynamic signage plays a significant part in 21st Century  Fire protection and safety measures. 

The standard specifically recommends a ’fail safe’ capability - which means if all power or connectivity fails the sign shall still present a compliant Emergency Evacuation Sign - not good news for the Oled panel signs that rely on continuous power supply but OK by Evaclite because we thought about it and ours does.

Who typically specifies the Evaclite product?

Dynamic and Adaptive signage is a fairly new and disruptive technology; as you would expect our customers and specifiers fall into the ‘Early Adopter’ category. Simply put, it has been those designers, architects, Building Managers, Integrators and Fire Engineers who are looking to improve the safety of the buildings they are constructing or upgrading, by being open to new ideas and technology. 

In addition, other Fire Safety businesses have understood how our product can save lives and reduce risk as well as support, enhance.  In some circumstances they can even ‘turbo charge’ their own product ranges.  As an innovative business we have had fantastic support in showcasing our Dynamic signage with help from some of the ‘Royalty of the Fire and Lighting Industries including:  Advanced, Kentec, Orbik and Apollo - so a huge thanks to them.

Evaclite believes that someday, all emergency exit signage will be like this. 

Don’t just take our word for it, the stats speak for themselves:

  • Increased rates of detection by more than 60%
  • Improve people's decision making by 44%
  • Can facilitates a 50% quicker evacuation

Want to discover more? Check out our range of dynamic and adaptive products: