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DON’T PANIC! Crowd behaviour in emergencies. Dr Chris Cocking University of Sussex [email protected] 6/9/2005. Outline of Presentation. 1) Background and aims of research 2) Examples of how behaviour in emergencies support our theories

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DON’T PANIC!Crowd behaviour in emergencies

Dr Chris Cocking

University of Sussex

[email protected]


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Outline of Presentation

  • 1) Background and aims of research

  • 2) Examples of how behaviour in emergencies support our theories

  • 3) How this may be useful in managing future crowd evacuations

  • 4) Any questions/ points for discussion

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Context of research

  • Crowd behaviour theories have developed over time

  • 19th Century- Le Bon irrationalist approach

  • 1960s - 70s more rationalist approach

  • From 1980s to present- crowd behaviour increasingly seen as governed by social norms- beyond rational or irrational as this is a matter of interpretation -The Social Identity Model

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The ‘Panic’ model

  • Part of the irrationalist tradition in crowd psychology

  • Reproduces dominant image:

  • a)Threat causes emotion to overwhelm reason

  • b) Collective identity breaks down

  • c) Selfish behaviours- pushing trampling etc

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

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Scope of research project

  • 3 year project funded by ESRC since April 2004 to see if existing psychological models of crowd behaviour can be applied to emergencies

  • Taking a critical look at the ‘panic model’

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

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Research into 7th July

  • Gathering data from Press reports and web-logs

  • Web- based questionnaire study for eye-witnesses of bombings;

  • Interview studies to come

  • Results so far support our theories

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7th July terrorist attacks

  • Rough chronology of events on the tube

  • 1) Blast followed by darkness and silence

  • 2) Screams of fear and distress- passengers try to find out what’s going on and wait for info/guidance

  • 3) Smoke & soot clear- attempts to help/ comfort others, & escape- some delay because of fear that tracks are live

  • 4) Passengers wait up to 30-40 mins. for rescue, and walk in orderly fashion along tracks when directed

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7th July terrorist attacks

  • 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

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Why no Mass Panic?

  • 1) British Bulldog spirit meant we were used to it or even expecting it ?

  • 2) Mass Panic is extremely rare anyway? Only when chance to behave co-operatively has gone

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The myth of Panic

  • Many accounts of ‘panic’

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

  • 2) ‘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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  • ‘I felt there was a real sense of unity. We were all trying our best to find a way out of there and reassure each other’.

  • ‘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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Co-operative behaviour

  • 1)‘Many people kept calm and tried to help one another to see if anyone was injured’

  • 2)‘I was very aware of people helping each other out and I was being helped myself’

  • 3) ‘Passengers with medical experience were found, I found a tool box and we smashed a window, allowing the medical guys to enter the other train’

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Orderly evacuation?

  • ‘Everyone was pretty calm and no-one made a rush for the doors in a panicked fashion’

  • ‘About 20 minutes later the message came through that those who could walk should move to the front of the train and disembark and walk down the track. [] after a short distance we were stopped and told that a person had been blown out of the train against the tunnel wall and could not be moved as he was critical’

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Since July 7th

  • 21st July attempted bombings

  • 22nd July Stockwell shooting

  • 3rd August smoking bus evacuation

  • On each occasion more urgency and distress reported

  • Some reports of pushing/ stampeding

  • But is this mass panic?

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Baghdad stampede 31/8/05- incompetence or conspiracy?

  • Panic to flee suspected suicide bomber?

  • Mismanagement of large crowd in confined area?

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Hurricane Katrina, Sept 2005

  • Initial reports of mass looting, gang-rapes, and murders in Superdome, New Orleans

  • But these reports were later seen to be wildly exaggerated- very little evidence to support them

  • WHY?

  • Perhaps it fits with the current view of crowds once formal authority goes

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Possible applications of my work

  • 1) More information rather than less

  • Very little evidence supports idea that people will panic if they know severity of the situation

  • If information is given in clear ways that people can safely act upon to escape threat, they usually do

  • Consequently, deliberately withholding info could cause problems in any future emergencies, as people may not trust accuracy of messages

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Possible applications of my work

  • 2) How this information is relayed and by whom affects whether it is believed and acted upon

  • Information needs to be clear and unambiguous, and come from believable source that crowd identifies with

  • This could depend on type of crowd; e.g. commuters, football fans

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Possible applications of my work

  • 3) Appealing to the crowds’ collective identity/ common humanity

    Having a common fate can encourage co-operative behaviour- ‘we’re all in this together’

    Sir Ian Blair-‘communities defeat terrorism’

    Having out-groups can strengthen in-group identity, but is a double-edged sword

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

  • 2) The ‘panic model’ is largely a myth

  • 3)Evidence gathered from July 7th attacks supports our theories