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The mass psychology of disasters and emergency evacuations: A research report and implications for practice. Presentation for the FSC conference 8/11/2007 Chris Cocking & John Drury: London Metropolitan University & University of Sussex [email protected] Outline of Presentation.

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The mass psychology of disasters and emergency evacuations: A research report and implications for practice

Presentation for the FSC conference 8/11/2007

Chris Cocking & John Drury:

London Metropolitan University & University of Sussex

[email protected]


Outline of presentation l.jpg
Outline of Presentation A research report and implications for practice

  • Background and aims of research

  • Examples of how behaviour in emergencies support our theories

  • Implications for emergency planners


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Development of crowd behaviour theories over time A research report and implications for practice

  • 19th Century- Le Bon’s irrationalist approach

  • 1960s - 70s more rationalist approach- ENT

  • From 1980s to present- The Social Identity Model


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The ‘Panic’ model A research report and implications for practice

  • Part of the irrationalist tradition in crowd psychology

  • a) Threat causesemotion to overwhelm reason

  • b) Collective identity breaks down

  • c) Selfish behaviours- pushing, trampling

  • d) Contagion-these behaviours spread to crowd as a whole

  • But mass panic is v. rare!


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Social attachment model- A research report and implications for practiceMawson (2005)

  • In emergencies, people seek out attachment figures: social norms rarely break down

  • But, such ties can have fatal consequences- people escape (or die) in groups

  • Improves on panic model, and supported by evidence from disasters, (Cornwell, 2001) but problems remain:

  • a) Implies that panic in a crowd of strangers is more likely

  • b) Why do strangers co-operate in emergencies?


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The self-categorisation approach A research report and implications for practiceTurner (1987)

  • Disasters create a common identity or sense of ‘we-ness’- Clarke (2002)

  • This can result in orderly, altruistic behaviour as people escape common threat

  • Increased threat can enhance common identity


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Research project A research report and implications for practice

  • Funded by ESRC- April 2004-7

  • Can existing psychological models of crowd behaviour can be applied to emergencies?

  • 3 different areas of research; interviews, room evacuations, and VR simulations


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Results from interviews A research report and implications for practice

  • Common identity quickly emerges

  • Co-operative rather than selfish behaviour predominates

  • If selfish behaviour happens, it is usually isolated and rarely spreads


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Hillsborough survivor A research report and implications for practice

  • I don’t think people did lose control of their emotions [ ] they were clearly in control of their own emotions and their own physical insecurity, I mean [] you’re being crushed, you’re beginning to fear for your own personal safety, and yet they were [ ] controlling or tempering their emotions to help try and remedy the situation and help others who were clearly struggling


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Room evacuation studies A research report and implications for practice

Simulated role-plays of room evacuations with smoke and time pressures

Some evidence of common identity emerging in response to shared fate

But study suffered from lack of realism


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VR evacuation programme A research report and implications for practice

  • Joint project with computing scientists at Universities of Nottingham & RMIT (Australia)

  • Many simulations of crowd flow, but ours was first to consider psychological theories of crowd behaviour

  • Evidence for link between sense of groupness and helping

  • Discussions with potential users (e.g. Home Office/SciTech) to market it as a training tool


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Research into 7/7/2005 A research report and implications for practice

  • Data from Press reports and web-logs

  • Web- based questionnaire study for eye-witnesses of bombings; www.sussex.ac.uk/affiliates/panic/

  • Interview study of survivors

  • Results support our theories


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Response to 7/7 A research report and implications for practice

  • Individual fear and distress, but no mass panic

  • Evacuations characterised by orderly, calm behaviour

  • Many reports of altruism, co-operation, and collective spirit of Londoners/ UK as a whole


Panic l.jpg
Panic? A research report and implications for practice

  • There was no real panic - just an overwhelming sense to get out of the station quickly

  • Almost straight away our packed carriage started to fill with smoke, and people panicked immediately. Thankfully there were some level-headed people on the carriage who managed to calm everyone down


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Unity A research report and implications for practice

  • One of the things which struck me about this experience is that one minute you are standing around strangers and the next minute they become the closest and most important people in your life. That feeling was quite extraordinary


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Panic on 9/11? A research report and implications for practice


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The myth of Panic A research report and implications for practice

  • Many accounts of ‘panic’ in emergencies

  • But what actually is panic, and what is logical flight behaviour?

  • Need to look at what people actually do, and decide if it is indeed ‘panic’

  • More than just semantics, as it could affect emergency evacuation planning


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Research on emergency evacuations: implications for practice A research report and implications for practice

  • More info rather than less can improve evacuation time and efficiency (Proulx & Sime, 1991)

  • Source of info and whether it’s trusted matters

  • Appeal to crowds’ co-operative nature- don’t assume they will behave selfishly or panic

  • Practice evacuations!


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Summary A research report and implications for practice

  • Crowds in emergencies behave in ways that are consistent with their identities and governed by the social norms of the situation

  • The ‘panic model’ is largely a myth

  • Evidence supports our theories

  • http://www.sussex.ac.uk/affiliates/panic/applications.html


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References: A research report and implications for practice

  • Cornwell, B. (2001). The Sociological Quarterly, 44, 617-638.

  • Le Bon, G. (1968)The crowd: A study of the popular mind. (Originally published 1895)

  • Mawson, A.R. (2005) Psychiatry, 68, (2) 95-113.

  • Proulx, G. & Sime, J.D. (1991). Fire Safety Science: Proceedings of the Third International Symposium, 843-852.

  • Turner J et al (1987) Rediscovering the social group


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