Monday, 29 August 2016

'Panic' at US airports?

There have been a couple of recent incidents at US airports that have created some interesting discussions about crowd behavior. Last night, (28/8/16) the passenger terminals at Los Angeles International Airport  (LAX) were evacuated  after reports that loud noises were misinterpreted as gun-shots. This follows a similar incident at New York's JFK airport two weeks previously, and both have generated detailed coverage in the US media, with reports of people 'stampeding' and mass 'panic' along with some lurid speculation about the inherent dangers of crowds. However, as is often the case with coverage of such incidents, I think what actually happened is a little more complicated than mere crowd 'irrationality'. In this post, I will quickly look at both incidents in turn, and then explain that while there could be possible implications for safe crowd management, adopting a default position that crowds will behave irrationally in such situations could obscure proper understanding of what went on, and more importantly, reduce the chances of any such future incidents being managed safely.

JFK & LAX evacuations
The first incident happened at JFK airport on 14/8/2016, and there is quite detailed coverage in the New York magazine suggesting that the following chain of events happened. It seems that an initial crowd surge began after applause in response to Usain Bolt's victory in the 100m Olympic final was falsely believed by some to be gunfire and one passenger reported seeing a gun. The resulting crowd movement caused some of the metal poles that are used to create queue lines to fall over (like the ones in the picture below), which created a clacking sound that some believed was gunfire, giving further credence to the rumours  already circulating that there were active shooters in the airport. There were also reports that the Police drew their weapons and ordered passengers to leave the terminal at gun point with their hands raised. Therefore, there seems to have been a cascading chain of events that added credibility to the rumors of shooters being present and resulted in heightened anxiety among those present and the consequent crowd flight that was seen.

Passengers on the ground in the immigration area of JFK airport, 15 August
People take cover at JFK

Moving now to the incident at LAX, similar scenes seem to have happened after loud noises were also misinterpreted as gunshots. Coverage of the story in the LA Times, states that after a person dressed as Zorro with a sword was detained by Police outside the passenger terminals (he was released after they realized it was a plastic sword), rumours circulated of an active shooter, which caused passengers to evacuate the terminal, with some leaving their baggage behind and/or opening emergency doors that led onto the tarmac where the planes were situated.  The following eye-witness account illustrates the anxiety that some of those affected appear to have experienced;

'Actress Anne Dudek of Santa Monica was one of the travelers who fled from Terminal 7 after her United Airlines flight arrived about 8:30 p.m. She said that she went down the escalator to baggage claim about 8:45 p.m and a man who appeared to be panicked ran by, warning everyone to run because he said people were being shot. "People started dropping bags and running out of the terminal," she said. "Panic spread." Dudek said she did not hear any shots, but decided to leave Terminal 7. She ran across the street, headed through the parking structure and made her way to the area near Southwest Airlines. She eventually reached her parked car and left the airport.'

'Panic' or logical flight behaviour? 
While the previous extract presents a rather chaotic picture, the accompanying video clip in the LA Times article is less dramatic and while people are either running or quickly walking out of terminal, it is all quite orderly, and not the actions that would normally be associated with a 'stampede'. I think this illustrates quite well how journalistic hyperbole (and sometimes even eye-witness accounts) of such incidents often slips easily into descriptions of 'panic'- something I have looked at in my own research of survivors' accounts of emergencies (Cocking & Drury, 2014). However, even if one accepts the premise that rapid flight occurred, there are a couple of things still worth considering.

First of all, research that I have done into crowd flight during emergency situations (Cocking, 2013) found that while such behaviour was often an instinctive reaction (e.g. people running as soon as they see a crowd surge towards them without waiting to find out the nature of the threat), socialized responses quickly over-ruled such instinctive reactions (such as helping people who had fallen over, re-grouping to deal with the threat etc). Therefore, I concluded that even in such extreme situations, describing sudden crowd flight as a 'stampede' didn't fit with detailed observations of what actually happened on the ground, and this has been supported by more recent blog-posts of other crowd emergencies.
Secondly, there is the issue that crowd behaviour is often pathologized by outside observers with the benefit of hindsight. So it's very easy to write off the behaviour of passengers at JFK and LAX as 'panic' after the event when we know there wasn't an active shooter at either incident and so there was no need to evacuate. However, if you are caught in a fast-moving situation without access to information, then hearing from others that there is a threat may appear credible, and so fleeing from this perceived threat may seem to be the most logical thing to do at the time if you don't have an overall view of what is going on. This may also be particularly relevant in the current context of heightened security at US airports post 9/11, (and the more recent mass shootings in Paris, Orlando, Dallas etc) meaning that people may be more alert to danger at JFK & LAX compared to other international airports. Therefore, providing crowds with reliable information in emergencies is vital, an issue that I will address in my final section.  

Provision of information in emergencies: 
The provision of information during emergencies is a contentious topic, and until relatively recently, emergency planning and response was often influenced by the assumption that crowds will 'panic' if made aware of a threat- thus justifying the idea that information should be withheld in emergencies. Some of the LA Times coverage of the LAX incident may appear to support this notion, such as this extract with the reporting an interview with the local mayor;
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the chaos that unfolded at the airport appeared to be a case of old-fashioned panic and miscommunication that spread quickly. "It's almost like a game of telephone, by the time people were hearing things, I think they heard it was an active shooter … that's when chaos can break out... It wasn't really the technology, it was just … one person yelling out to another and yelling to another.
However, I would still take issue with the notion of contagion of 'panic' after people have alerted others to a possible threat. This is because decades of work into crowd behavior reject the idea that crowds blindly follow any source of information, and not all rumours circulate without question in crowds. I would argue therefore that the solution to this problem is not to withhold information as a rule from crowds in emergencies. Research I did with John Drury into mass emergencies (Drury & Cocking, 2007) concluded that wherever possible, information should be provided about threats, as well as action that people could take to avoid and/or mitigate such threats and keep themselves safe, The crucial points to consider are the delivery of information and also the relationship that the crowd has with that source of information, so looking at ways to build trust between the public and official sources of information is vital to prevent circulation of false rumours. Technology is increasingly used to deliver such information, and while it will never be a complete panacea, it can help send out a consistent message to everyone with a mobile phone in the vicinity. So for instance, LAX has an Wireless Emergency Alert system that they used in this incident to send out a text message advising people that there wasn't an active shooter.

I would argue that we should take a more positive view of crowds than seems to have been adopted in coverage of the incidents at JFK & LAX. I'm not saying that we can't improve upon how such events are managed, but I would suggest that the possible problems that such incidents can generate do not rest within the inherent pathology of crowd behaviour and that emergency planners need to work with crowds more to ensure safe evacuations. Furthermore, the provision of consistent and credible information that crowd members can act upon is vital  as this will help foster a more collaborative relationship with crowds, and most involved in the field of crowd safety management now accept this is crucial in ensuring that such incidents are managed safely.

 Cocking C. (2013) Crowd flight during collective disorder- a momentary lapse of reason? Journal of Investigative Psychology & Offender Profiling,10 (2) p.219-36. DOI:10.1002/jip.1389

Cocking, C. & Drury, J. (2014) Talking about Hillsborough: ‘Panic’ as discourse in survivors’ accounts of the 1989 football stadium disaster. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 24 (2) 86-99. DOI: 10.1002/casp.2153;

Drury, J. and Cocking, C. (2007). The mass psychology of disasters and emergency evacuations: A research report and implications for practice. 

Friday, 15 July 2016

Crowd responses to the Nice attack

France is reeling again after another horrific terrorist attack in Nice that has so far caused at least 84 deaths (including many children) during the Bastille day celebrations when a truck ploughed into crowds along the Promenade des Anglais on the seafront. This attack will be particularly painful for France, because of the great importance attached to the Bastille day celebrations. I was in Paris on July 14th a few years ago, and it was clear to me how important these celebrations that commemorate the French revolution are to the French psyche. Three days of national mourning from Saturday 16th July have now been declared, and the state of emergency imposed after the Paris attacks in November 2015 (which was due to end) has been extended by another 3 months.

Crowd flight:
There is extensive BBC coverage of the incident and there are numerous interviews with eye-witnesses that describe the situation in some detail. As is common in these situations, the term 'panic' is often used to describe people's reactions as they flee from danger. However, I would argue that far from being a 'panicked' response, people's reactions appear to be quite ordered within the situation that fits with previous work I have done on crowd flight in response to threats (Cocking, 2013). So, for instance, there does appear to be some evidence of an initially instinctive reaction by bystanders to the flee threat they faced, as illustrated by this eye-witness account;
"Then I saw the truck coming straight at me swerving all over the place. It was perhaps 50 yards away. After that there was no conscious thought, my body took over, time slowed down and I ran and thank God I got out of the way"
I found something similar when I spoke to people who had fled Police charges at demonstrations, and some reported that as soon as they saw the crowd surge towards them, then they began running as well, without waiting to find out what was going on. However, this surge was usually momentary, and tended to dissipate once they realised they were out of danger. In mobile phone footage of the crowd flight in Nice, you can clearly see people running down the street, but the flight is quite orderly and some people are walking quickly rather than running at full-speed. Furthermore, not all people instinctively fled with the crowd, and another eye-witness reports that when he saw people fleeing he actually ran towards the incident to find out what was going on. He does mention that there was 'fear & panic in people's faces', but this appears to be his description of the understandable individual reactions to a truly terrifying situation rather than any collective mass hysteria. He also reports that he helped up people from the ground who had fallen over in the rush to get away. In the footage I watched, I also saw people carrying children with them (at least 3 are still in their pushchairs), and some were still holding their bags. Finally, there were even reports of some people heroically attempting to stop the truck, as an eye-witness told the BBC;
"Some people were hanging on the door and tried to stop it."
Therefore, to me, while this was undoubtedly a terrifying situation for those affected, the crowd's responses still don't seem to fit with the mindless actions that are implied with use of the term 'panic'
Video showed people fleeing
Mobile phone footage of crowd flight 

Social Support in the aftermath of the attack:
As has happened after previous terrorist attacks in France and Belgium, there has been an outpouring of support on social media, with people offering sympathy, and practical help, such as the #PortesOuvertesNice hashtag, where people have offered help and/or shelter to those affected by the attack.  Hashtags such as #PrayForNice, #JeSuisNice & #NousSommesUnis (we are united) that show general solidarity with those affected are also trending. Such expressions of global solidarity are common after terrorist attacks, as I explored in a previous blog-post on Paris attacks in Nov 2015 an article for the on-line Conversation after the Brussels attacks in March 2016. This is  because far from dividing communities and exacerbating tensions (as is often the intention behind them), terrorist attacks can actually help bring people together with a shared sense of identity, which can then unite them not only in solidarity with the victims but also in defiance against those who perpetrate such murderous acts. This emergent sense of identity forms part of the theoretical model known as the Social Identity Model of Collective Resilience (SIMCR) that developed from work I did with John Drury into crowd responses to mass emergencies (Drury et al 2009 a &b). While the carnage unleashed upon innocent bystanders in Nice is truly horrific, I hope that this social support and practical help offered to those affected can be part of helping them to recover and re-build their lives and communities in the aftermath.
People lay flowers at the scene of the attack in Nice

Floral tributes left at the site of the attack

Cocking C. (2013) Crowd flight during collective disorder- a momentary lapse of reason? Journal of Investigative Psychology & Offender Profiling,10 (2) p.219-36. DOI:10.1002/jip.1389

Cocking C (2016) Brussels terror attack victims show how humans help each other in times of crisis. Published online in The Conversation, 22/3/16.

Drury, J., Cocking, C., & Reicher, S. (2009a). Every one for themselves? Understanding how crowd solidarity can arise in an emergency: An interview study of disaster survivors. British Journal of Social Psychology 48.

Drury, J., Cocking, C., Reicher, S. (2009b). 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.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Euro 2016 disorder in Marseille

Violence has marred the opening games of the Euro 2016 finals in France, with the most serious disorder happening in the lead up to the England v. Russia game in Marseilles on Sat 11th June. The BBC reported clashes in the Vieux Port area before and after the game, with French Police using water cannon and tear gas to disperse fans. In the aftermath, the French authorities have urged banning alcohol sales in cities hosting subsequent games, and UEFA has reportedly begun disciplinary proceedings against Russia (French prosecutors have also been reported as saying that a hard core of 150 Russian fans were behind the violence), with the threat that both England and Russia could be disqualified if there is a repeat of the disorder.

The 'English disease' or inadequate policing?
As is depressingly common after football related violence involving England fans, there has been the usual rush by commentators on mainstream and social media to condemn the actions of a 'violent minority', as if it was entirely the fault of a few 'hooligans' that widespread disorder occurred, and that there were no other contextual factors to explore.The Football Supporters Federation (FSF) issued a statement on the violence where they rejected the idea that England fans were solely to blame. In a detailed and at times frank piece, they accept that not all England fans are 'angels', and that a small minority may have behaved in inappropriate and/or anti-social ways. However, they also argue that the anti-social activities of a minority were not representative of the vast majority of fans. Furthermore, to the best of their knowledge, none of the violence was initiated by England fans and there were also pre-planned co-ordinated & indiscriminate attacks against all England fans regardless of their behaviour;
'We have witnessed groups coming together – sometimes Russian hooligans, sometimes Marseille ultras, sometimes simply gangs of local youths – with the deliberate aim of attacking England fans eating and drinking in and outside bars and restaurants or making our way to the game. Some of them have been tooled up, some of them have had their faces masked, but all of them have been intent on starting trouble and initiating violence'.
This appears to be supported in a Guardian article where the British police officer in charge of monitoring England fans in France says that there is evidence that a large group of up to 300 Russian fans planned and prepared for confrontation with the England fans before the game. The Irish Times journalist Ken Early also argues that outdated myths are often associated with England fans (e.g. from the 70s & 80s when football hooliganism was a much greater problem) which means that they can often attract trouble from others looking for violence;
'The English crowd creates a trouble magnet, attracting the troublesome elements in the city, and the circle of chaos is complete when the aggressive police wade in with batons and tear gas'.
This then leads us onto allegations of inadequate and/or inappropriate crowd management strategies, and the FSF statement is also openly critical of the French Police: firstly in their apparent lack of action to prevent the attacks against the England fans happening; but also that when they finally did respond, their tactics were indiscriminate and ultimately counter-productive;
'Time after time, the first intervention of the French police has been to use tear gas and then water cannons. It’s in the nature of tear gas that it doesn’t discriminate between perpetrators and passers-by, between attackers and victims, and it often lands when the villains of the piece have already run off – leaving those who have just been attacked or in the vicinity with eyes stinging and streaming, and struggling to breathe. The other consequence of this police approach is that while it may look dramatic and effective, with people running for cover, it actually leaves the hooligans free to fight again another day. None of them are arrested, they get to slope off and re-group ready for their next assault, or to travel to their next venue.'
This is supported by an interview in the Telegraph, with Geoff Pearson (an academic from Manchester University who researches football policing) who witnessed the violence in Marseilles first hand. He was also critical of the French police, arguing that their public order tactics are often outdated and counter-productive as they seemed to escalate the situation in Marseilles when they finally responded to the initial disorder. This apparent failure in policing is also mentioned by Clifford Stott, an expert in the psychology of football disorder & public order policing who worked with the Portuguese Police during the Euro 2004 Championships (Stott & Adang, 2004) .

 Police using tear gas
French police use tear gas in the Vieux Port, Marseilles

Comparisons have been drawn between the behaviour of England fans with Welsh fans (there was no disorder reported around Wales' game with Slovakia), and similar comparisons were also made between England & Scotland fans during the 1998 World Cup in France, which also saw disorder in Marseilles involving England fans, implying that it is something inherent to the English fans' psyche that allows hooliganism to emerge. However, there were also clashes reported between Northern Ireland & Poland fans before their game in Nice, so England fans were not the only ones from the UK involved in disorder this weekend. Furthermore, in a study of the 1998 disorder in France, Stott et al (2001) concluded that it wasn't the presence or absence of 'hooligans' that explained why disorder happened in some areas and not others. Instead, they found that collective violence was more likely in the situations where there was an atmosphere of inter-group hostility that contributed towards fans seeing violence as an acceptable response to what they felt were illegitimate attacks against them by other fans or the local Police.

'Stampede' in the Stade Velodrome?
There was also a specific incident in Marseille's Stade Velodrome towards the end of the game that is of particular concern. Around the time that Russia equalised, Russian fans broke through a thin line of stewards  and charged the England fans, causing a crowd surge. It seems that there were inadequate numbers of stewards separating the England & Russia fans (a Mail on Sunday journalist tweeted that there were only five between the 2 sides), and the England fans quickly fled once they realised what was happening. This incident has been widely reported as a 'stampede', and there were also reports via Twitter that women and children were inadvertently trampled in the crush. My own research on crowd flight (Cocking, 2013) has found that the notion of an irrational 'stampede' is rarely backed up by detailed examination of what happens in these situations, and that people often try to help each other during such surges if it is physically possible to do. Therefore, there is little evidence that people deliberately trample over each other as they flee, and in the rare situations where this can happen (such as the Haj disaster in Sept 2015), it is usually because crowd density has become so high in a moving crowd that a crowd collapse happens, and if someone falls over, there is a domino effect whereby people cannot stop themselves being pushed over those on the ground because of the physical pressure in the crowd. Therefore, I am wary of describing such incidents as 'stampedes', and in the photo below, there are at least two people in the crowd who seem to be reaching behind them to help others over the barrier- which doesn't match with the selfish and/or irrational behaviour implied by the term.

Fans in Marseille stadium climb fences to escape trouble
England fans climb over barrier in the stadium to escape

The events of this weekend are of serious concern, and it would be a tragedy if the Euro 2016 championship is allowed to be defined by this early disorder. However, I worry that it is all too easy to slip into lazy narratives relying on outdated historical concepts of football 'hooliganism' that can apportion the entire blame onto the wrong targets and prevent detailed examination of what actually happened. In a previous blog on pitch invasions, I argued that society often engages in moral panics about football fans, and I worry that a similar process is at play here. While England football fans may not always behave like angels, I think it is premature to rush to demonize them in the wake of any disorder and we need to carefully explore what other factors that contributed to the disorder in Marseilles. This is all the more vital because now that the truth about the Hillsborough disaster is widely accepted (that fans were not to blame & that crowd management failures were responsible), we must not allow ourselves to slip back to the outdated narratives about the dangerous and/or 'irrational' behaviour of football crowds that have been so prevalent in recent history.

Cocking C. (2013) Crowd flight during collective disorder- a momentary lapse of reason? Journal of Investigative Psychology & Offender Profiling,10 (2) p.219-36. DOI:10.1002/jip.1389

Stott, C. J. & Adang, O.M.J. (2004) ‘Disorderly’ conduct: social psychology and  the control of football ‘hooliganism’ at ‘Euro2004’. The Psychologist. 17, 318-319.

Stott, C., Hutchison, P., & Drury, J (2001).‘Hooligans’ abroad? Intergroup dynamics, social identity and participation in collective disorder at the 1998 world cup finals. British Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 359–84.