Completed Research

Estimating Occupant Loads in Retail Buildings

Principal Investigator: Gianluca DeSanctis, EBP Engineering, Switzerland

The Research Problem

Occupant load is a critical factor in egress analyses for fire safety systems. Codified values for occupant loads for many occupancies are estimates which frequently do not reflect actual conditions. More realistic data from occupant load studies is available, however it is derived by varying types of people counting systems. Further, a full statistical analysis of the data, taking into account its variability, is often not undertaken and reported. For retail buildings in particular, the variability of the occupant load can provide important design information.

The Project

The research study had three components:

  • An in depth assessment of currently available people counting systems, identifying strengths and weaknesses.
  • A review of occupant loads in actual fire incidents in retail buildings to assess optimum measurement intervals and statistical analyses.
  • An in depth statistical analysis of occupant data in Swiss retail stores, exploring the impact of occupancy detailed type, building configuration and location.

(Final Report [PDF])


The Chief Donald J. Burns Memorial Research Grant funds is no longer awarded. The purpose of this grant was to utilize information modeling as a means of improving infrastructure safety and fire service preparedness. The Grant is named in memory of FDNY Assistant Chief Donald Burns. Chief Burns died in the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001, while setting up his command post to direct the evacuation.

Funding for this grant was provided by Bentley Systems Incorporated. Bentley is a global leader in providing architects, engineers, geospatial professionals, constructors, and owner-operators with comprehensive software solutions for sustaining infrastructure.


2017 – Visual Localization Systems for Fire Brigade Using BIM Technology
Paula Smyczek, Dr. Piotr Tofilo and Dr. Adam Krasuski, Main School of Fire Service
(Final Report [PDF])

2016 – Real-Time Fire Monitoring and Visualization for the Post-Ignition Fire State in a Building
Paul Beata, Dr. Ann Jeffers and Dr. Vineet Kamat, University of Michigan
(Final Report [PDF])

2015 – Fire Navigator Research
Nahom Daniel and Dr. Guillermo Rein, Imperial College London
(Final Report [PDF])

2014 – Development of a Cyber Physical System for Fire Safety
Rosalie Faith Wills and Dr. Andre Marshall, University of Maryland
(Final Report [PDF]| Presentation [PPT])

2013 – Property Risk Optimization by Predictive Hazard Evaluation Tool (PROPHET)
Austin Anderson and Dr. O.A. Ezekoye, The University of Texas at Austin
(Final Report [PDF]| Presentation [PPT])