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DONT PANIC! Crowd behaviour in emergencies: evidence and implications Presentation for the EPC 11/12/2007 Dr Chris Cocking London Metropolitan University.

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Presentation on theme: "DONT PANIC! Crowd behaviour in emergencies: evidence and implications Presentation for the EPC 11/12/2007 Dr Chris Cocking London Metropolitan University."— Presentation transcript:

1 DONT PANIC! Crowd behaviour in emergencies: evidence and implications Presentation for the EPC 11/12/2007 Dr Chris Cocking London Metropolitan University

2 Outline of Presentation 1) Background and aims of research 2) Examples of how behaviour in emergencies support our theories 3) Implications for emergency planners

3 Context of research Crowd behaviour theories have developed over time- a) 19 th Century: Le Bon irrationalist approach b) 1960s - 70s: more rationalist approaches c) 1980s to present: The Social Identity Approach- not rational or irrational, but transformation from individual to collective


5 Iroquois fire 1903 most of the dead were trampled or smothered, though many jumped or fell to the floor of the foyer. In places on the stairways, particularly where a turn caused a jam, bodies were piled 7 or 8 feet deep. Fireman and Police confronted a sickening task in disentangling them.[ ] The heel prints on the dead faces mutely testified to the cruel fact that human animals stricken by terror are as mad and ruthless as stampeding cattle (in Latane & Darley 1970) p.53

6 What is panic? Is escaping a potentially fatal threat- panic or logical flight behaviour? Difficult to define extreme and groundless fear (Quarantelli 2001) Collective flight based on hysterical belief (Smelser, 1963)

7 The Panic model Part of the irrationalist tradition in crowd psychology a) Threat causes emotion to overwhelm reason b) Collective identity breaks down c) Selfish behaviours- pushing, trampling d) Contagion- these behaviours spread uncritically to crowd as a whole

8 Implications of the panic model Assuming crowd will panic can affect emergency planning Implications behind Civil Contingencies Act of potential threat of public gatherings (Drury, 2004) Counter-terrorism planning in US tends not to trust public to behave sensibly, assuming that they are uncooperative and prone to panic (Glass & Schoch- Spana, 2002) Over-protective government responses may stunt publics own natural resilience (Wessely, 2005)

9 Problems with the panic model Mass panic is rare - noticeable by its absence in many different emergencies, such as; a) Atomic bombing of Japan during World War II b) Kings Cross underground fire (1987) c) WTC evacuation 9/11 classic panic action or people behaving in an irrational manner was noted in [just] 1/124 (0.8%) cases (Blake et al. 2004)

10 Panic during WWII? Not simply number of casualties, but intensity and unpredictability 80,000 killed in London during Blitz, vs in Coventry, but more psychological casualties in the latter Children often found it more upsetting to be separated from parents than air-raid itself Cf Jones et al (2006), Mawson (2005)

11 Under-reaction rather than over-reaction When people die in fires, its not because of panic, its more likely to be the lack of panic Neil Townsend, Divisional Officer, London Fire Rescue Service

12 Social attachment model Developed by Mawson (2005) Uses early psychological theories of maternal attachment In times of stress, people seek out attachment figures- known as affiliative behaviour Social norms rarely break down But these ties can have fatal consequences- people tend to leave or die as a group

13 Social attachment model 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) Neglects possibility that strangers may co-operate with each other

14 The self-categorisation approach Disasters can create a common identity or sense of we-ness This common identity results in orderly, altruistic behaviour as people escape common threat Increased threat can enhance common identity Supported by evidence from sociologists Clarke (2002); Tierney (2002)

15 Scope of research project Project funded by ESRC from at University of Sussex Can existing psychological models of crowd behaviour can be applied to emergencies? 3 different areas of research: interviews, room evacuations, and VR simulations

16 Interviewing disaster survivors Sinking of the Jupiter, 1988 & Oceana, 1991 Hillsborough football stadium disaster, 1989 Ghana football stadium stampede, 2001 Bradford football stadium fire, 1985 Fatboy Slim beach party, 2002 Harrods bomb, 1983 Canary Wharf evacuation, 2001

17 Results from interviews Common identity quickly emerges Co-operative rather than selfish behaviour predominates If selfish behaviour happens, it is usually isolated and rarely spreads, with others usually intervening

18 Hillsborough 1989

19 I dont think people did lose control of their emotions [ ] they were clearly in control of their own emotions and their own physical insecurity, I mean [] youre being crushed, youre 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

20 Fat Boy Slim Brighton 2002

21 People were helping people up and helping people down it was it was a very different atmosphere from any other gig that Id ever worked before It was like a massive rave party where everybody felt they knew each other where they could go up to each other hug total strangers and they were in such close proximity to each other and all you could see was people sticking their arms round each other and grinning and you know it was oh God its a bit packed isnt it that sort of…those conversations were going on but not complaints about it

22 Room evacuation studies 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

23 VR evacuation programme Joint project with computing scientists at Universities of Nottingham & RMIT (Australia) Many good simulations of crowd flow, but most dont 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


25 Research into 7 th July, 2005 Press reports and web-logs Web based questionnaire for eye- witnesses of bombings Interview study of survivors Results support our theories

26 Chronology of events on the tube on 7/7 Blasts followed by darkness and silence Screaming- people try to work out whats going on Smoke & soot clear- attempts to help/ comfort others, & escape- some delay because of fear that tracks are live Passengers wait approx 30 mins. for rescue, and walk in orderly fashion along tracks when directed

27 Response to 7/7 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

28 Orderly evacuation

29 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

30 Panic? 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

31 Unity 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

32 Co-operative behaviour Many people kept calm and tried to help one another to see if anyone was injured I was very aware of people helping each other out and I was being helped myself 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

33 Cultural/ national differences? Do different nationalities/ cultures respond differently in emergencies? We expected some minor cultural variations at start of project, but the more we looked, the less differences we found

34 Panic on 9/11?

35 Asian Tsunami, Thailand 2004 When tsunami hit, divisions between local Thais and Western holidaymakers were forgotten and people co-operated Reports of fighting between tourists to get ferries from islands afterwards, but collective identity could have diminished by then and less important than desire to get home

36 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: crime rate in period after Katrina actually dropped Local Police chief resigned when scale of exaggeration became clear

37 Fear of mob has fatal results?

38 Hajj pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia Some of largest crowds on earth travel to Mecca/ Medina for the Hajj each year Some tragic accidents, but overwhelming majority of pilgrims unaffected Fatalities usually due to physical pressure of crowd rather than any irrational behaviour Need to overcome some fatalistic cultural beliefs (e.g. its Gods will)


40 General conclusions Little evidence for mass panic in emergencies The panic model should not be used in planning emergency responses Any selfish behaviour is confined to individuals and rarely spreads Risks associated with crowds are usually due to physical constraints and lack of info rather than their inherent selfishness

41 OK, BUT SO WHAT? Possible applications of the research

42 More info rather than less Very little evidence that people panic if made aware of a threat and some shows the opposite (Proulx & Sime 1991) Use of radio code words (e.g. Mr Sands etc) good for keeping professional composure, but no evidence people stampede if they hear FIRE! If info is given in clear ways that people can safely act upon to escape threat, they usually do Deliberately withholding info could cause problems in any future emergencies, as people may not trust accuracy of messages

43 Delivery of information is important! Info needs to be clear, unambiguous, delivered confidently, and come from believable source that crowd identifies with. Spokesperson should be appointed with sole duty to communicate with public (London Assembly 2006) This could depend on type of crowd; e.g. commuters, football fans

44 Crowds can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem People may delay own evac to help others Appeal to the crowds common humanity- Were in this together Dont address commuters as atomised customers Influential leader figures may emerge from crowd, who can help rescue effort

45 Spontaneous leaders on 7/7

46 Plan emergency response Take the possibility of emergency seriously- dont think it wont happen to us! Train staff in knowledge of location, and how to relay information effectively in emergencies Dont say dont panic, as it can create expectation of panic (Durodié & Wessely, 2005) Practice can make a real difference; e.g. WTC evac rates vs 2001 (99% of those below planes impact escaped-USA Today)

47 Possible problematic behaviours by individuals Delaying exit to safety/ finishing mundane tasks-freezing or disassociation People tend to leave by route they entered, even if closer exits are available Crowd members can be unaware of physical pressure that others may suffer People unwilling to leave area, or passers-by rubber-necking Attempts to breach cordons (worried parents, single-minded commuters, etc)

48 Summary Crowds in emergencies behave in ways that are consistent with their social identities and governed by the social norms of the situation The panic model is largely a myth Evidence gathered from many different emergencies supports our theories

49 Thank you for listening Any questions/ comments? Full Report available at: panic/applications.html panic/applications.html

50 References: Blake et al (2004). Proceedings of Third International Symposium on Human Behaviour in Fire. Clarke L (2002). Contexts. Cornwell B (2001) The Sociological Quarterly, 44, Drury J (2004) The Psychologist. Durodié B & Wessely S (2002) The Lancet. Glass T & Schoch-Spana M (2002) Clinical Infectious Diseases Jones et al (2006) Journal of Risk Research Latane & Darley (1970) The Unresponsive bystander. Le Bon G (1968)The crowd: A study of the popular mind London Assembly (2006) Report of the 7th July Review committee. Mawson A (2005) Psychiatry Proulx G & Sime J (1991) Fire Safety Science Quarantelli E (2001) The Sociology of Panic Smelser N (1962). Theory of Collective Behaviour. Tierney K (2002) Strength of a city: A disaster research perspective on the WTC attack.

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