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Press release


  • 20 July 2005
  • Research to explore crowd responses to bombings


    An image from the crowd behaviour VR computer simulation model

    An image from the crowd behaviour VR computer simulation model

    The experiences of people caught up in the London bombings are to be used by university scientists to help emergency services tackle similar disasters in future.

    Scientists from the University of Sussex, along with academics from Nottingham and St Andrew's universities, have been looking at how people behave in disaster situations such as bombings and fires to help develop a simulation programme for use in emergency services training.

    At the time of the London bombings, the team, comprising psychologists and computer scientists, were at the Royal Society Summer Science Fair in the capital, exhibiting their interactive virtual reality simulation of an evacuation from a London Underground station.

    Their research showed that while individuals may become distressed and fearful, crowd 'panic' is rare. Crowd members often develop a shared sense of identity through their common fate and this can spur them on to perform selfless or even heroic acts to help others.

    The subsequent events in London supported their findings. Contrary to the popular myth of mass panic in crowds during emergencies, there were no such reports. The evacuations from the Underground system were typically calm and orderly, with numerous examples of people helping each other, even when faced with mortal danger.

    In response to this, the researchers are hoping to hear from people affected by the London attacks, to develop their findings further, and have set up a web site where people can record their experiences at: http://www.cs.nott.ac.uk/~dzs/londonbomb/index.htm

    University of Sussex psychologist Dr Chris Cocking says: "A disaster such as a terrorist attack may encourage a sense of common humanity among people who might otherwise have no connection, and so total strangers will help each other out to escape a shared danger, even at great risk to themselves as individuals."

    It is hoped that the research can look at ways of improving safety during emergencies. While there has been much coverage of the collective spirit of Londoners, the researchers feel that this is a universal response to disaster common in all humanity, as was seen in New York after 9/11 and the Asian tsunami.

     

    Notes for editors 

    To find out more about the research project, contact Dr Chris Cocking. Tel: 01273 872877, e-mail cpc20@sussex.ac.uk

    Enquiries about the VR simulation, contact Dr Damian Schofield, University of Nottingham, 0115 951 4084, or email dzs@cs.nott.ac.uk

    Press office contact: Maggie Clune or Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678209 or email M.T.Clune@sussex.ac.uk or J.A.Bealing@sussex.ac.uk

     

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