Saturday, 25 November 2017

A 10-point listicle on journalist accounts of the public responses to events in Oxford Street, November 2017

A brief commentary for journalists and others on the events in Oxford Street, Friday 24th November 2017, when members of the public responded to fears of gunfire or a terrorist attack.
1.    In the footage from Oxford Street, many people are looking where they are going, assessing the situation, or otherwise moving in an orderly way, or standing around etc. Only a few people scream.
2.    Research evidence on emergency evacuations shows that coordination and order is common. Pushing and trampling occurs rarely and tends to be in narrow exits that are unfamiliar. Coordination reduces when people don’t see themselves as a ‘we’ or ‘us’.
3.    It is not clear that the number of injuries reported is particularly high for the number of people involved. 
4.    Research on fires shows that people often underestimate danger and/ or delay their exit (to respond, to stay with others). This, not over-reaction, is a main cause of fatalities.
5.    Research shows that there isn’t indiscriminate ‘contagion’. People attend most to, and follow the example of, those they judge to be relevant for the context, who are often people they define as similar to self.
6.    The word ‘panic’ was common in the news accounts, but researchers reject the term because it is hard to evidence.
7.    What is gained by saying ‘panic’ (rather than 'fleeing') is the implication that the behaviour is an overreaction, is unreasonable. But what should people do when the information they have is that there is a threat? ‘Sudden fear’ or ‘fleeing’ are more neutral terms.
8.    Journalists seemed to describe responses as ‘panic’ because it wasn’t after all a real emergency; but in many real emergencies people don’t know whether it is real or not (including fires and terrorist attacks).
9.    A first irony of the journalists’ use of the term ‘panic’ for the public response is that the government’s advice is to ‘run’ (this is not necessarily an endorsement).
10. A second irony is that the image of a vulnerable panic-prone public, rather than collectively resilient, is precisely what ISIS and others seek to achieve.

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