Izzy Boardman

Journalist, IFSEC Global

June 22, 2018

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FIREX 2018

The concept of mass panic during a disaster is a myth, Dr Chris Cocking tells FIREX 2018

Dr Chris Cocking’s talk ‘Human behaviours during emergencies’ presented at the FPA Infozone at FIREX provided insight into how people really behave during an incident and how understanding this can be implemented into evacuation plans to ensure people’s safety.

“Studies have shown that mass panic in an emergency is very rare” said Dr Cocking, Senior Lecturer, School of Health Sciences at the University of Brighton, as he presented to a packed theatre. “If you assume a panic model you view crowds as a problem not a resource and this can create problems you are trying to avoid.”

The traditional panic model would argue that in a scary context this overrides rationality and causes people to act selfishly which means that if everyone is behaving like that, those ‘contagion behaviours will spread across a crowd.

“I’m not saying there is no selfish behaviour during incidents but there is a lot less than people tend to believe.”

Dr Cocking’s research is based on the social identity model of collective resilience (SIMCR) and dismisses predetermined views of crowd behaviour. “There is more evidence to suggest that cooperation actually prevails over selfish behaviour and that disasters bring people together”, explained Dr. Cocking.

“Disasters result in orderly, altruistic behaviour as people escape the common threat.” In general any lack of cooperation is actually due to physical constraints. “I’m not saying there is no selfish behaviour during incidents but there is a lot less than people tend to believe.”

‘Panic is often used as an explanation to deflect blame away from possible crowd or venue mismanagement which cast the victims as villians.”

There is also very little evidence to suggest that people panic if they are made aware of the threat which means that information should not be withheld. “This could delay evacuation and cause problems in future emergencies.”

Overall this means there should be more information not less and this needs to be conveyed in a clear way that tells people what’s going on, what the threat is and what they need to do to escape it.

It is vital to plan and improve responses as well as train staff so that they know the layout and exits inside out and can efficiently lead people to safety in the event of an incident.

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Is the fire protection industry adapting to the post-Grenfell reality fast enough? At FIREX International 2019, Europe's only dedicated fire safety event, some of the world's leading fire safety experts covered this theme. This eBook covers the key insights from those discussions on the developments shaping the profession, with topics including:

  • Grenfell Inquiry must yield “bedrock change” – and soon
  • After Grenfell: Jonathan O’Neill OBE on how austerity and policy “on the hoof” are hampering progress
  • Hackitt’s Golden Thread: Fire, facilities and building safety
  • Fire safety community has to “get on board” with technological changes

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Paul Reed
Paul Reed

What a load of rubbish, panic is not a myth but a dangerous reality.
I have seen many instances of panic and it is “contagious”, i have seen many Fire Brigade videos where the results of panic has resulted in many deaths and even piled five high at fire exit doors as people try to escape.