Intended for healthcare professionals


Emergency planners should not assume that people will panic

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 07 December 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1192
  1. Claire Frauenfelder, BMJ

    Planners of responses to emergencies should not assume that all crises result in mass panic, a conference in London was told last week.

    Speaking at the Health Protection Agency's conference looking at the outcomes of the bombings in London on 11 July 2005, Simon Wessely, of the Institute of Psychiatry, London, said that people reacted “with individual fear but without panic.” He described how immediately after the bombs went off victims remained orderly, acted purposefully, and experienced a sense of unity, “forming powerful social bonds.”

    He likened the behaviour to the resilience shown during the London blitz in the second world war, when 35 000 people were killed. However, he said that problems might arise when people face acts of terrorism, because, unlike during a conventional war, they “have no defined role to play.”

    He discussed a study of a representative sample of 1000 people selected from among the London public 11 to 13 days after …

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