Asee peer logo

Bringing Human Factors into Engineering Education Realm - A Case Study: Teaching Human Factors in Fire Protection Engineering

Download Paper |


2019 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting


California State University, Los Angeles , California

Publication Date

April 4, 2019

Start Date

April 4, 2019

End Date

April 6, 2019

Conference Session

PSW Section Meeting Papers - Disregard start and end time - for online paper access only

Tagged Topic

Pacific Southwest Section Meeting Paper Submissions

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Lily Xiaolei Chen California State University, Los Angeles

visit author page

Assistant Professor, College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology, California State University, Los Angeles

visit author page

Download Paper |


Human-factors engineering has long been considered an integral part of engineering. It focuses on the application of human physical and psychological characteristics to the design of engineering devices/systems so that the products and solutions can better serve human needs. There has been a long history of efforts in incorporating human factors in engineering education, such as teaching ergonomics in product and space design. However, this idea and practice has not been implemented in the area of fire science and engineering education: little or limited emphasis of human factors are included in current curriculum. In fact, human behavior in fire is at the core of all fire safety regulations, projects and service actions. It is the basis of various engineering solutions for fire safety. Therefore it is of imperative necessity to teach students to look at fire protection from human perspective, and understand the human factors that have shaped a variety of problem-solving in fire protection engineering.

Transform the idea. To transform the idea into teaching practice, a new course, Human Behavior & Fire Protection, was designed and attempted in fall semester of 2016, 2017 and 2018. This course introduces various human behaviors during fire emergency with a focus on interactions among fire, building, and occupants. It examines human decision-making process in a fire emergency, i.e. how people become aware of the fire and make decisions for evacuation or protection. It examines various behaviors during evacuation, including panic behavior, re-entry behavior, delayed evacuation, crowd behavior, exit pattern, etc. Furthermore, the course discusses how these behaviors may affect the engineers to design safe egress path and effective protection systems such as fire detection, suppression and smoke control system. Another key issue examined in this course is responses and behaviors of disabled/impaired/aging population under fire situation. Engineering solutions to accommodate their special needs during fire emergency are studied in detail, correspondingly.

Think out of the box. It would be insufficient to limit the learning of human factors in fire engineering on paper. In addition to weekly lessons, two course projects that require the application of knowledge leaned from lectures to real-world cases are planned during a semester. Students are asked to examine building fire safety features and fire protection engineering solutions in a real building, and find out the human factors that impacted/shaped these features/solutions. Furthermore, they are encouraged and challenged to propose better design solutions based on the understanding of human behaviors in a fire.

This case study elucidates how the ideas and methods of incorporating human factors in fire science/engineering curriculum are explored and tested. Feedbacks collected and lessons learned during 3-year practice are also discussed. It is anticipated that the discussions in this paper will help push forward the effort of emphasizing human factor in fire science/engineering education in future teaching practice and help students achieve a better learning outcome when creating “humane” fire engineering solutions for buildings.

Chen, L. X. (2019, April), Bringing Human Factors into Engineering Education Realm - A Case Study: Teaching Human Factors in Fire Protection Engineering Paper presented at 2019 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting, California State University, Los Angeles , California. 10.18260/1-2--31819

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2019 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015