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Does “mass panic” exist?

By | 10. July 2017|Expertise, News|

We know terms “Mass panic” and “mass hysteria” from the media. There are some dramatic events where dozens or even hundreds of people died as they were part of a big crowd or fell victim to it. But can a crowd panic? How can you note such a situation and which behaviour is helpful?

How is a mass panic defined?

For us, the term mass panic involves a tragedy which affects a lot of people who are in a place which is too small for them. This spatial cramping is one of the causes for the further progress of the tragedy. It is commonly assumed that the majority of a crowd panics in the case of a dangerous event and uncontrolled flight movements result. During big events, causes may include a fire, a thunderstorm, a technical defect, an architectonic/static defect, a bomb threat or a terrorist act.

How does it arise?

The individuals of a crowd now try to flee and get out of the danger zone, led by a self-preservation instinct. This does not trigger a panic, but only a flight movement. A panic state rather occurs with single persons within the group and is visible by the combination of irrational decisions, panic-stricken flight behaviour or a panic stiffness in which case the person is not reactive or cannot be spoken to. The state of the individual panic is not contagious.

Dirk Helbing, professor of sociology tags the term „mass panic“ to be misleading: “The catastrophe often does not happen as people fall into a state of psychological panic. The dead people are the result of a physical and not a psychological effect.” Sais Helbing. He further explains that the danger of the crowd lies in physical forces which are transferred in waves from person to person and therefore develop an uncontrollable force. Nobody within this self-dynamic crowd can control his own movements any longer. One is moved backwards and forwards by the crowd. When people fall to the ground and try to grab each other or support each other, close by persons can’t stay on their feet as well.

The moving crowd becomes particularly dangerous when too many persons simultaneously try to squeeze through a narrow exit. This is when the bottleneck effect occurs.

How do I behave correctly?

This is the reason why a good security concept plans several separate ways both in and out for the crowd and offers possibilities to reduce the density of narrow passages. If you find yourself in a mass disaster, it is extremely important to stay as calm as possible and not to run pointlessly through the crowd. Be prepared and memorize the emergency signs and escape routes at the entrance of the event. Also, memorize where the medical center and the police station is located.

Due to this information, not only you can act more calmly and more securely, but help and talk to other people as well who are hectic.

Try to convince other people to take responsibility as well. Because persons who feel responsible for others (for example their own children), are less likely to panic as fast as others. It is nearly impossible to simulate a mass panic for training purposes. Nevertheless, you can consider the possibility of such a catastrophe and prepare in a mental way. Thus, you prepare to react to unexpected events in a more relaxed, calm and overviewing manner.

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