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New research is to be carried out, which could help event organisers contain potential mass emergencies and manage crowds more effectively.
The research will be led by University of Sussex academic Dr John Drury, and will investigate to what extent crowd managers such as local authorities, stewards, the Police and security teams subscribe to common “disaster myths”, or other more positive views of crowds, and how these inform their decision-making. The findings should also help shape further work into how crowd behaviours vary in relation to the way crowds are managed.
The second part of the project involves an analysis of official guidance documentation, to determine whether such psychological ‘myths’ are endorsed by policy-makers and other authorities involved in the management of mass emergencies. Finally, the researchers will examine how Police and event managers’ representations of crowd events operate in practice through a study of two large dance parties, which took place on Brighton beach and featured chart-topping DJ Fatboy Slim.
The most common myth about crowds in a potential emergency situation is that they will turn into a mass of panic-stricken individuals who need to be herded and controlled. However, previous research by Dr Drury has shown that mass-emergency behaviour is orderly and cooperative rather than panicked, violent, and chaotic.
Said Dr Drury, who is conducting the research with Dr Clifford Stott, of the University of Liverpool: “These myths suggest that crowds in emergencies are psychologically vulnerable and in need of top-down expert care and control. Our research in the related field of crowd protest, however, has shown that some forms of intervention by the authorities can inadvertently create and escalate the mass conflict that they seek to prevent. This is because some senior Police officers tend to view crowds as inherently irrational and prone to violence. We will test to see how far such views are also held in the management of mass emergencies.”
In relation to the beach parties, Dr Drury explained: “The question here is to what extent were the decisions of the organisers of the second event shaped by their concerns about potential disaster, following the earlier event? What was the balance between these fears, positive representations of the party crowd, and logistical and legal considerations?
“We also want to discover to what extent did attempts to prevent ‘disaster’ limit the enjoyment of party-goers, and undermine their practical and psychological abilities independently to care for each other at moments of stress during the event?”
An earlier feature article by Dr Drury on crowd management can be found in SHP April 2009 or click here.