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Memorial’s Marine Institute Scientist Helping Improve Passenger Safety On Ships

In a province mostly surrounded by water, travel by sea is not unusual. Large capacity ferries serve as the link between the island part of the province and the mainland, and smaller ferries serve the various remote coastal areas on the island as well as in Labrador.

In addition to that, a growing cruise industry regularly brings large numbers of tourists to the province on short-term visits and many locals and visitors vacation on adventure cruise vessels in our home province.

Brown and his team at the Marine Institute have been working in collaboration with colleagues in the United Kingdom, France, Norway and Italy through the recently completed SAFEGUARD project, in which scientists and engineers carried out full-scale sea trials on three large passenger ships — two ferries and a cruise ship.

Approximately 6,000 passengers were assembled at sea and the team collected data to characterize people’s behaviour at various stages of an emergency evacuation. The research aimed to understand and quantify how people reacted when they heard the ship’s alarm, what route they chose to reach the assembly areas onboard and how quickly they did so.

Brown hopes his work over the past 10 years will improve the safety of passenger ships, not only in Newfoundland and Labrador, but globally.

International regulations require that new passenger ships undergo evacuation analysis to determine if the layout is conducive to events that require passengers to muster. This is typically done using software that couldn’t be meaningfully validated. The research by Brown and his team created the first ever “validation dataset” that can actually be used for demonstrating whether or not a given ship evacuation software package produces realistic results.

“This research was eye-opening in that it provided the first reliable data on how passengers behave when they hear alarms on large passenger ships and how long it takes people to assemble,” Brown explained.

“It resulted in a huge dataset that can be used to validate ship evacuation simulation models used in the design of passenger ships.”

The project findings suggest that passenger behaviour is quite different on cruise ships as compared to ferries.

On ferries, for example, passengers in public spaces such as restaurants, seating areas and in areas other than cabins, tend to respond to an alarm to muster more quickly than passengers onboard cruise ships, which might be due to the nature of the voyage. A possible reason for this may be that passengers on ferries are typically travelling from point A to B and don’t really take the time to settle in as opposed to people on cruise ships.

The results were widely published, and one journal article, of which Brown was the lead author, received the Medal of Distinction of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects. Currently, the findings are being formulated for updates to international regulations that govern passenger ship design through the UN’s International Maritime Organization.

The international collaboration is only the tip of the iceberg for future research in this area.

“The University of Greenwich and Marine Institute have had excellent collaborations on several projects that advance our understanding of human behaviour during evacuation from passenger ships,” said Ed Galea, a professor with the University of Greenwich in England.

“We are hopeful that the partnership will continue to bring improvements to safety on passenger ships worldwide.”

Brown and Galea are working with researchers in Norway to secure funding for a followup project to examine passenger ship safety in polar regions.

“More and more people are interested in exploring these very cold, remote regions but the scientific community, as yet, does not have a firm grasp on how a mass evacuation in a polar region might unfold,” Brown said.

“The proposed research will build on what has been completed to date and provide much needed data to improve the chances of a successful evacuation in such a harsh environment, should it be required.”