Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Civil Engineering

Committee Chair/Advisor

Dr. M.Z. Naser

Committee Member

Dr. Pamela Murray-Tuite

Committee Member

Dr. Brandon Ross


People with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups involved in building fires. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, in the United States alone, an estimated 700 home fires involve people with physical disabilities each year while over 1700 involve those with mental health disorders. Despite this, the current body of literature shows few studies focused on the evacuation of disabled people. This is a direct result of past and present social injustice on people with disabilities and has resulted in high injury and death rates during fires. To combat this, enrich the literature, and improve their experiences in the built environment, this thesis marks the inaugural study of an ongoing project that aims to include all forms of disability in building fire research. This is initiated through the identification of four general disability categories involved in evacuation: functional independence, sensory perception, medical health, and social cognition. By far the most abundant category, functional independence (physical disabilities) provides a starting point for future reference. Therefore, this thesis experiment involves the simulation of 1-3 wheelchair users in a building population of 80 occupants. Two iterations of simulations were completed for a low-rise university apartment building using the evacuation software Pathfinder, and the resulting 327 simulations were analyzed for potential structural aids and barriers to the evacuation process. As a byproduct of this research, a dynamic structural ranking system of egress components is proposed for wheelchair users. Overall, the goal of this research is to provide a connection between people with disabilities and engineers and officials in the structural fire field—therefore increasing awareness among the non-disabled community and improving access and egress in the built environment. Additionally, suggestions for structural modifications are provided to improve egressibility of the simulated building. Finally, the limitations and challenges of the research are identified, and plans for future research are provided.

Author ORCID Identifier



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