Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Protestors sued by energy company

The Guardian newspaper and channel 4 news have reported that the French energy company EDF is attempting to sue a group of climate change protestors for £5m after a peaceful occupation of a power station in Nottinghamshire last October. It is clearly concerning for the individuals involved who presumably don't have that kind of money and face possible bankruptcy, but this also has worrying implications for the right to protest. If  the case is successful, it would mean that companies involved in controversial activities could attempt to silence protests against them by threatening ruinous civil action. It also seems that there is evidence of possible collusion between the local Police force (Nottinghamshire Police) and EDF, with protestors claiming that the Police have been passing on information about them to the company which has then appeared in papers drawn up by EDF, and even serving court papers on their behalf in police stations!

Putting to one side the dubious legality of such practices, actions like these can only increase distrust between protest groups and the Police. I looked in a previous entry at why the tactic of using Police Liason Officers (who are supposed to encourage greater dialogue and trust between Police and protestors) has been controversial in Brighton because there have been similar allegations of collusion between Brighton police and a local factory accused of making equipment for military purposes. If the Police are going to be credible in their claims that they are neutral in sometimes contentious protests, then the allegations made against Nottinghamshire police can only damage such claims and further undermine protestors' trust in them.

For more infomation, see the campaign website;

Monday, 11 February 2013

'Stampede' at Kumbh Mela?

So far at least 36 people have being killed and 31 injured in a crush at a railway station in Allahabad, India as pilgrims were returning from the Kumbh Mela Hindu festival. The BBC's on-line coverage of the tragedy doesn't used the word 'panic' to describe the tragedy (although Radio 4's Today programme did!), but still uses the term 'stampede' at least 5 times, which in my view is just as bad because of the animalistic and unthinking overtones that it implies.

However, the coverage also highlights what I think will emerge as a more likely cause of the tragedy- that of mismanagement of the crowd, and allowing dangerous overcrowding to occur. India's railway minister admits as much;
"There were too many people on the platforms. The station was overcrowded".

A previous post I wrote looked at how events reported as 'stampedes' rarely turn out to be supported by later evidence, and how terms such as 'panic' can serve to deflect blame onto the 'irrational' behaviour of those affected, when negligence on the part of those responsible for managing the event may be a more likely cause of the tragedy. I also worry that there can sometimes be a fatalistic belief that at mass gatherings of people (often religious festivals), deaths are almost inevitable, and that little can be done to prevent them. I remember doing a radio phone in for the BBC world service a few years ago about the annual Haj pilgrimmage in Saudi Arabia, where I was debating crowd safety issues with a representative from the Saudi interior ministry, and I came up against a similar kind of fatalism amongst him and other callers. The work of Keith Still who has advised the Saudi authorities in designing structures and crowd modelling issues to deal with the vast numbers of pilgrims who attend the Haj, has shown that such events can be managed safely, and that one need not accept that there will always be fatal incidents. Helping to facilitate the safe movement of crowds and trusting them to behave in a sensible way  (rather than blaming any tragedies on the behaviour of those affected), is necessary if the risk of such tragedies occurring in future is to be reduced.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Emergency management conference prize

My University Research News eChannel has covered the prize I won for best presentation at the Emergency Services conference at Nottingham Trent University, November 2012, when I talked about the research I have done into collective resilience in mass emergencies (some references below). It was a nice surprise, as I had left the conference an hour early to meet up with an old friend, and later found out by e-mail that I had won but missed the award ceremony, which explains the rather windswept picture of me holding the certificate on my University campus in Brighton.

Text is second item down in the eChannel coverage.

Cocking C (In Press) ‘Crowd resilience during the 7/7/2005 London Bombings: Implications for the Emergency Services. International Journal of the Emergency Services.
Drury, J., Cocking, C., Reicher, S. (2009). The nature of collective ‘resilience’: Survivor reactions to the July 7th (2005) London bombings. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 27 (1) 66-95.
Drury, J. and Cocking, C. (2007). The mass psychology of disasters and emergency evacuations: A research report and implications for practice. University of Sussex.