Tuesday, 31 January 2012

C4 Programme on Costa Concordia

I watched a surpisingly good documentary on the sinking of the Costa Concordia on Channel 4 this evening. While I have some of the usual minor grumbles about broadcasting interviews of survivors using the term 'panic' in their discourse, and then showing real footage that appears to show the exact opposite, on the whole it provides rather detailed accounts of what actually happened, instead of retreating into uncritical acceptance of dodgy old mass panic myths. They also interview Ed Galea from Greenwich University, a recognised expert in the field of evacuation behaviour, who makes some very valid points. The one that stuck out most for me, was his point that in emergencies, providing accurate information to passengers is vital, so they can act appropriately to escape danger. The idea that one should either lie or withold information for fear of mass panic if people find out the truth about the threat is not only unfounded, but potentially very dangerous, as it may delay people evacuating until it's too late. Footage of the crew trying to maintain the story that the ship had merely sufferred an electrical fault seems either irresponsible or negligent if this was done as a deliberate tactic to stop passengers 'panicking', and risks people not trusting information in future emergencies. Infra-red footage also clearly shows passengers queueing on the hull of the grounded ship to get on life-boats, thus further undermining the notion that there was any 'mass panic'


Tuesday, 17 January 2012

crowd psychologists on Radio 4

I'm very pleased to say that some in the media are now taking a more critical view of the idea of 'mass panic', as it's becoming increasingly clear that passengers' behaviour during the recent Costa Concordia incident was a lot better than previously reported.

Two experts in emergency behaviour (including John Drury whom I worked with on a mass emergencies project at Sussex University 2004-7) were talking this morning on Radio 4's Today programme about research into what people actually do in emergencies, and the psychological processes involved. Would recommend a listen;

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Costa Concordia ship rescue panic caught on film?

The following link (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16565838) is to some rather poor quality footage of the recent Italian ship sinking and entitled; 'Costa Concordia ship rescue panic caught on film', and the voice-over talks of passengers fighting for life-belts.

It's difficult to see too much on this clip, but it begins with people screaming, then the screaming stops, and people beging talking in quieter voices (mainly in Italian), and they seem to be waiting by the edge of the rail- presumably as they're trying to get off and into lifeboats. There is 1 person wearing a life-belt, but I can't see anyone fighting to try and get it off them, and the general picture seems a lot calmer than that presented by the emotive headline used.

Maybe other footage will emerge of the selfish behaviour reported by journalists, but until it does, why can't they stick to reporting on what actually happened, rather than ill-informed speculation that just buys into the usual dodgy old views of 'panicked' behaviour in emergencies, which are rarely backed up by evidence?

Saturday, 14 January 2012

'Panic' during Italian cruise ship evacuation?

Reports are still coming in about the grounding of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy, but the usual discourse of 'panic' is being uncritically accepted by journalists. A member of the ship's crew was interviewed by the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16559996). In it the journalist seems keen on pressing him on how many people were jumping into the water. In another clip, a commentator draws comparisons with the Titanic (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16560617). This seems to me to be a bit of an attempt to conform  to the sensationalised (and flawed) accounts of emergencies portrayed in Hollywood films before we know the full facts about what happened (although I think we can confidently say it didn't hit an ice-berg in the Mediterranean!).

So far, 3 people have been confirmed dead (although 70 are still unaccounted for), which considering there were nearly 4000 people on the ship is a mercifully low death toll (especially because it seems that very few lifeboats were launched), and doesn't say to me that 'mass panic' occurred. The ship worker interviewed does use the term 'panic' to describe people's behaviour as they evacuated, but other than saying that people were pushing, he doesn't go into any great detail about what they were actually doing. He also comments that people were unwilling to seperate from family members, which fits with Mawson's (2005) Social Attachment Theory, which says that in emergencies, people tend to stay with attachment figures and help them evacuate, rather than leaving the less able behind, which might be expected if people 'panicked'.

If any pushing did occur, it's quite possible that the rapid listing of the ship meant that people would have found it difficult to cooperate with each other, and may have accidentally bumped into others as they fell over as the ship tipped on its side. This incident may have some parallels with the sinking of the MV Estonia in the Baltic in the 1990s. Cornwell et al (2001) researched this tragedy, where over 800 people died, and concluded that the high death toll was due to people being unable to help each other because the ship went down so quickly, rather than because they 'panicked'.  

Cornwell, B., Harmon, W., Mason, M., Merz, B., & Lampe, M. (2001). Panic or situational constraints?The case of the M/V Estonia. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 19, 5-25.

Mawson, A. R. (2005). Understanding mass panic and other collective responses to threat and disaster. Psychiatry, 68, 95-113.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

talk coming up

I've been asked to do a talk at Brighton University's Resilience forum on my plans for future research into collective resilience. Details below if anyone fancies coming.