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Practicalities and Limitations of Coupling FDS with Evacuation Software

Daniel Rådemar, WSP, Sweden

Daniel Blixt, WSP, Sweden
Brecht Debrouwere, WSP, Sweden
Björn Grybäck Melin, WSP, Sweden
Andrew Purchase, WSP, Sweden
Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) allows the available safe egress time (ASET) to be calculated for
a design by modelling the fire and smoke movement. An assessment of evacuation movement then needs
to be made to estimate the required safe egress time (RSET). Many evacuation software exist, but very
few allow a direct coupling of the CFD and occupant movement data. This coupling is advantageous as
it allows for visualization and quantification of tenability conditions. However, coupling two different
software types is not always straightforward and is still a developing feature in evacuation software.
The emphasis of this paper is on the coupling of evacuation software with Fire Dynamics Simulator
(FDS). Pathfinder, STEPS and Evac software were considered. An example geometry based on an
underground rail station was used to compare the setup, limitations, advantages and outcomes using the
different evacuation software. The Fractional Effective Dose (FED) was used to calculate the RSET for
this investigation. This paper provides a reference for other practitioners of specific issues to consider
when setting up their own models. It also demonstrates some of the competencies required when
coupling FDS with evacuation software that may not be obvious to less experienced practitioners.
The process of designing building fire protection varies from country to country. In Sweden,
performance based design (PBD) methods can be used when deemed-to-satisfy building code (BBR,
[1]) designs are not applied. PBD methods are often desirable due to economic, architectural or practical
considerations, but often require more detailed calculations to be undertaken with advanced numerical
tools such as CFD and evacuation modelling.
In Sweden, BBRAD 3 [2] gives the framework for how PBD methods should be carried out to comply
with BBR. For typical building types this includes guidance around the acceptance criteria, design fire
scenarios and evacuation parameters such as pre-movement times and movement speeds. However, the
building code assumes the calculations are performed correctly and gives no guidance on how the
calculations should be executed. Fortunately, there is an industry guideline on how to perform CFD
calculations which has been prepared by BIV [3], the Swedish chapter of SFPE. This guideline provides
recommendations regarding the CFD model setup and self-checks that should be performed by the
practitioner. However, there is not an equivalent guideline for evacuation calculations that exists in
Sweden, and no guidance on how to couple the results from a CFD model to an evacuation model.
An additional issue also exists with the application of BBR and BBRAD 3 to non-standard building
types such as transport infrastructure. For example, tunnels are not classified as buildings but as large
structures. This implies that BBR and BBRAD 3 are not applicable. This puts greater responsibility on
the practitioner to develop inputs that are suitable for their particular project. In these situations, it could
also mean that acceptance criteria based on simple tenability limits (e.g. visibility) are too onerous and
some alternative criteria such as toxicity exposure is adopted. However, criteria based on exposure
requires a dosage to be accumulated on agents which is difficult to do unless there is coupling between
the CFD and evacuation models. This is because the agent’s dosage must be traced in time and space.
So the situation exists where there is little guidance around how evacuation calculations should be
undertaken and even less about how CFD and evacuation software should be coupled to enable
calculation of dosage based tenability. This situation is further compounded by the different evacuation
software and the variation in methodologies that these software use. While FDS has been largely adopted
as the industry standard for fire and smoke modelling, it is difficult to say if the same exists for
evacuation software. This could result in different outcomes for similar situations, and there is an
uncertainty if this is real or an artefact of the different modelling methodology and how it is applied by
the practitioner. While it would be interesting to compare outcomes for different evacuation software, it
is rarely the case that this is possible within time and cost constraints on actual projects.
The purpose of this paper is therefore to couple CFD output from FDS to different evacuation software
and compare the outcome. The intent is not to provide a guideline on how this should be undertaken,
but instead show how this can be achieved for different software and some of the pitfalls in doing this
coupling. In doing this, the intent is to also demonstrate some of the competencies required when
undertaking this type of coupling. Pathfinder, STEPS and Evac were used for the comparison as these
software allow for FDS coupling and were available to the authors.
To undertake the comparison of different evacuation software a four-step methodology was used:
1. Verify coupling of FDS with each evacuation software for a simple test model;
2. Develop a “complex” and interesting scenario to study and model this in FDS;
3. Couple the output from the FDS model with each evacuation software; and
4. Compare the outputs from each evacuation software.
The total evacuation time and FED are used as metrics for comparison. The calculation of the FED is as
described in the Pathfinder [4] and Evac user manuals [5]. As defined by ISO 13571 [6], an accumulated
FED of 1.0 corresponds to a log-normal distribution of responses, with statistically 50% of the
population expected to experience compromised tenability. A threshold criterion of accumulated FED
> 0.3 is a somewhat typical design criteria and correlates to approximately 11% of the population being
statistically susceptible to compromised tenability.
It should be noted that the geometries used in this study are fictitious and not based on any existing or
planned project. All scenarios and inputs are nominal for comparative purpose only, and although
informed by project experience, are not related to any project. The geometry and scenarios used were
intended to provide reduced tenability to produce interesting results. The authors provide no comment
on the suitability of the acceptance criteria or acceptability of outcomes as these are merely for
comparative purposes.
Verifying FDS and Evacuation Coupling
The FDS coupling methodology and calculation of the FED varies between Pathfinder, STEPS and
Evac, and this is discussed later in this paper. Given the variation in methodologies, a simple test case
was used to confirm the software setups and compare outcomes without the complexities of a detailed
evacuation scenario. It should be noted that this test case was not intended to validate the models but
merely to verify that the coupling with FDS and the FED calculation methodology was correct.
The test case consisted of a simple 400 m2 room with a 5 MW fast t-squared growth rate fire located in
the corner. A total of 300 agents were evenly distributed around the room. Two scenarios were modelled
including (1) agents exposed to fire and smoke for 600 seconds without any movement and (2) same as
scenario 1, but agents move out via an unconstrained path after 500 seconds.
The first scenario is intended to test FED accumulation by removing any differences in the way each
software models agent movement. This allowed direct comparison of the FED calculation in Pathfinder
and STEPS. However, Evac describes the accumulated FED when passing through a door or other mesh
boundary. The second scenario allowed direct comparison of all three evacuation software and the
unconstrained exit paths removes differences regarding movement and behavior at doors.
Figure 1 shows the results from the two scenarios for the test case geometry. The FED distribution is
sorted from highest to lowest for the 300 agents modelled. For both scenarios there is good agreement
between the three models. Although Evac could not easily output FED for the first scenario, this software
can display the FED visually for each occupant and this qualitatively showed good agreement with
STEPS and Pathfinder. These outcomes gave confidence that the coupling between FDS and each
evacuation software was correct and that the calculation of the FED was consistent between the software.
Figure 1 – Test Case Results
FDS Model and Evacuation Scenario
An underground metro station was selected as a complex and interesting geometry. CFD modeling was
undertaken with FDS version 6.1.2 [7]. The modelling setup was generally consistent with the Swedish
BIV guidelines for CFD modelling [3]. The fire was modeled as a fast t-squared growth rate that was
kept constant at 10 MW after reaching this peak heat release rate. A soot yield of 0.1 kg/kg and a CO
yield of 0.1 kg/kg were used, along with a heat of combustion of 20 MJ/kg. The FDS model was setup
to save the output required for each evacuation software, with all output recorded at 10 second intervals.
Figure 2 shows the CFD geometry. The tunnel stubs closest to the fire were modelled with a nominal
applied pressure to simulate a residual train piston effect that disturbs the smoke layer. All other
boundaries were modelled as open boundaries. No smoke exhaust was operating during the evacuation
phase and there were limited smoke barriers to prevent smoke spreading into the concourse levels.

Train 1
East Concourse
Fire Location

West Concourse

Train 2

Figure 2 – FDS Model Geometry (Ceiling Removed)

An evacuation scenario was developed and implemented into each evacuation software. This scenario
considered the following placement of agents (evenly distributed) and their pre-movement times:
1. 300 agents on the platform that start evacuating 1 minute after train 1 arrives
2. 900 agents on train 1 that arrives at the platform 2 minutes after the fire starts
3. 900 agents on train 2 that arrives at the platform 4 minutes after the fire starts on train 1
Both sides of the platform were equipped with stairs and escalators. The escalator on the eastern side
closest to the fire train (Train 1) were assumed to be unavailable due to the proximity of the fire, and the
adjacent escalator was running upwards towards the east concourse. On the western side one of the
escalators was assumed to be unavailable due to maintenance, while the other one was running upwards.
An elevator was provided on both ends of the platform to cater for the needs of the mobility impaired.
Movement characteristics for the horizontal planes and stairs/escalators were guided by BBRAD 3 [2],
which also requires that 1% of the agents are mobility impaired with reduced movement speeds.
Pathfinder Software
Pathfinder is an agent-based movement simulator developed by Thunderhead Engineering [4]. The
software uses a continuous model, where the simulated movement of the agents is calculated over a
triangulated mesh. Pathfinder version 2017.2.0301 was used for this study.
PLOT3D data of the volumetric fractions of CO, CO2 and O2 must be output by FDS for Pathfinder to
calculate the accumulated FED for each agent. Slice files can also be imported into Pathfinder for
visualization. Neither the slice files nor PLOT3D data affects agent movement for the version of
Pathfinder used. It is understood this feature may be included in future releases of Pathfinder.
STEPS Software
STEPS is an agent-based pedestrian movement tool developed by Mott Macdonald [8]. STEPS version
5.4 is a grid-based model that consists of pre-defined square cells that enable the movement of agents
to be simulated. Only one agent can occupy a grid-cell at any time. The impact of reduced visibility on
walking speed can be accounted for by using a correlation of extinction coefficient and walking speed.
In STEPS, dosages can be accumulated based on FDS slice file data. This means that FDS must output
slice file data for the volumetric fractions of CO, CO2 and O2 to calculate the FED, and the extinction
coefficient to enable movement speed to be reduced with visibility. These slice files must be at the
correct height for assessing tenability and on each movement plane. For this study a spreadsheet was
used to calculate the FED from the output dosages. While this may appear to be a disadvantage over the
other software, it does provide more flexibility in the calculation of the FED to include other components
(e.g. HCN), as well as the possibility to calculate other exposure data such as temperature.
Evac Software
Evac is an evacuation simulation module for FDS developed and maintained by VTT [5]. The main
feature of the EVAC model is the integration with FDS. The combined fire and evacuation software
allows the interaction of fire and smoke on evacuating agents to be modelled. The geometry is common
between FDS and Evac, although specific additions need to be made for an Evac model. In Evac each
agent is treated as a separate entity and their movement is then simulated on 2D planes defined by the
user. Interpersonal actions and reactions are defined in different input parameters. The forces acting on
the agents consist of both physical forces, such as contact forces and psychological forces exerted by
the environment and other agents. The social force model used for the movement algorithm is defined
in the Evac manual [5]. The calculation of the FED in Evac is integrated with the FDS model and
requires less user defined output and manual manipulation than for the other software used.
The total evacuation time (Figure 3) and FED (Figure 4) are used to compare evacuation software
outcomes. It should be understood that the outcomes discussed are specific to the scenarios modelled.
The first conclusion is that outcomes for Pathfinder and STEPS converge if no walking speed reduction
factor is used in STEPS. A second conclusion is that the walking speed reduction has a significant
influence on the total evacuation time of the agents. Little difference was observed between the walking
speed reduction due to the pre-defined irritant and non-irritant smoke correlations used in STEPS.
The Evac models show some interesting conclusions. With a walking speed reduction (default setup)
there is a significant variation to the other software, however, when this is removed, there is much better
convergence with the other models that also have no walking speed reduction. For the Evac model with
a walking speed reduction there are agents with a total evacuation time of zero. This means that these
agents were unable to leave the domain because their FED exposure reached unity. These agents also
have the effect of hindering or blocking other agents during their evacuation. Another phenomenon
observed with Evac is grouping behaviour which is an artefact of the social model used.
The total evacuation time is somewhat meaningless without a tenability criteria for comparison. For this
study, the FED was used to compare outcomes. Assuming a nominal threshold criteria of FED = 0.3,
the outcomes are significantly different. With Pathfinder and STEPS (without walking speed reduction)
the acceptance criteria would be satisfied for all agents. This, however, is not the case for the other
software variations which would have varying number of agents that exceed the threshold criteria.
Outcomes are worst for the Evac software using the default social model. The interesting result here is
that outcomes and acceptance of a design solution could be very much dependent on the model inputs
and also the software used. The FDS coupling methodology also affects the FED outcome and this is
discussed in the following section.

Figure 3 – Total Evacuation Time

Figure 4 – FED Prediction

The intent of this paper is not to suggest that one evacuation software is better than the other as each has
its own strengths and weaknesses in terms of the evacuation dynamics and coupling with FDS. Table 1
summarizes some possible advantages and limitations of each evacuation software for the purposes of
this study. The limitations highlight some of the potential issues when it comes to coupling the software
with FDS and that should be looked for when interpreting outcomes. The results presented above have
been produced to rectify or post-process out these issues where possible. However, some of these issues
are a inherit limitation of the software. For example, Pathfinder uses PLOT3D data which enables the
FED to be accumulated in 3D space. However, STEPS uses slice data which means accumulating FED
during vertical travel is much more difficult to calculate.
Like any modelling effort, a level of competence is required from the practitioner when it comes to
undertaking evacuation calculations, and even more so when it comes to coupling evacuation software
with FDS. The FDS model must be setup with the evacuation model in mind, and special measures taken
to ensure that FDS specific considerations (e.g. geometry simplifications, mesh locations) do not
adversely impact the evacuation calculation. If these considerations are unavoidable, the practitioner
must undertake post-processing and self-checks to ensure the outcomes are not an artefact of the model
setup and coupling with FDS. Some of the limitations noted in Table 1 would be obvious in the results.
Others are subtle and require a through probing of the output. This can become time-consuming with
potentially thousands of agents in a model, so the practitioner needs to develop methods and potentially
their own programs to process these large datasets to find and rectify potential issues.
Table 1 – Advantages and limitations of each evacuation software
Advantages Limitations
Intuitive user interface with the option to import FDS No current support for complex agent interactions and
geometry. behaviors (e.g. smoke/movement correlations).
Good visualization and support for complex geometries PLOT3D files require more data storage than slice files.

and evacuation scenarios. If FDS/Pathfinder geometries are not well coordinated then
PLOT3D data enables FED to be calculated in simple and agent FEDs can be distorted. If an agent moves into a region
complex geometries rather than being limited to slice without PLOT3D data then the O2 concentration goes to zero
planes. resulting in an erroneously high FED.
A separate CSV file is output for every occupant when
calculating the FED resulting in many files. Scripts (e.g.
Python) were used to process this data.
Good visualization and support for complex geometries Time-consuming to setup slice planes in complex geometries.
and evacuation scenarios. Time-consuming to process dosage data for many agents with
Ability to have user defined correlations for walking spreadsheets. Scripts (e.g. Python) are more efficient.
speed reduction. Difficult to accumulate dosage on non-horizontal planes (e.g.
Allows flexibility in calculation of dosage based stairs). This can distort the calculation.

tenability criteria such as FED. If FDS/STEPS geometries are not well coordinated then agent
FEDs can be distorted. Similar to Pathfinder.
Dosages across FDS mesh/slice boundaries can be distorted
(counted twice). Need to consider in FDS model setup.
Dosages can be distorted if a large output time-step is used
(e.g. when people enter/leave the domain).
Seamless integration with FDS. Poor visualization compared to commercial software
Relatively short setup time as the EVAC model is largely packages.
the same as the FDS model. No graphical user interface for model development.

Distinctive/ complex group behavior when compared to Limited support for complex environments (e.g. elevators,
the simpler models in Pathfinder and STEPS. moving trains).
No license costs and easily automated/scripted. Limited technical support, mainly forums.

This paper has compared different evacuation software and the capability of coupling these with FDS.
For the scenario considered, there was significant variations in the outcome. Applied to an actual project,
this could mean the difference between a design being acceptable or not. This variation was in part due
to the different modelling and FDS coupling methodologies used by each software package.
When it comes to coupling FDS with evacuation software, care must be taken to ensure that dosage
based values are calculated correctly. Misalignment in FDS and evacuation software geometries and
other issues can results in erroneous FED values. The user must take care when setting up the geometry
and look for these issues in the post-processing of data and self-checking of model outcomes.
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FDS+Evac, Technical Reference and User’s Guide," 2017.
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