When people are in a panic, especially in an emergency situation, the first thing usually that comes to one’s mind is to get out and find a safe place.
But in the midst of a crowd, the probability of injury or serious accidents increases and so researchers have tried to develop a complete science of crowds using a range of disciplines.
One relevant concept from complexity theory is ‘emergence’, which occurs when the interactions among the entities produce group behaviour that could not have been predicted from the properties of any individual element. For instance, randomly moving H2O molecules in liquid water suddenly link up at zero degrees Celsius to make solid ice; starlings in flight quickly form themselves into an ordered flock.
With this research, we can help avoid casualties when panic is stirred by a terrorist attack, for example, when a large group of people gripped by fear would be stampeding and running for their lives. It is going to be useful for public safety and crowd control.
Sidney Perkowitz, a professor emeritus of physics, elaborates more on the topic at Aeon.
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