• panic;
  • fire alarm response;
  • decision making


The word ‘panic’ is frequently used in media accounts and statements of survivors of emergency evacuations and fires, but what does it really mean, is it a phenomenon that actually occurs? This paper first examines the concept from the view of the general public, particularly the media. Definitions of panic behaviour related to emergency response are summarized and evidence of behaviour from actual fire incidents are presented through interview data and case studies. Despite the data demonstrating that panic is a very rare occurrence in fires, the idea of panic and the term continue to be used by the public as well as fire experts. It is therefore necessary to demystify the misconception that panic is an essential element of a fire and identify any scientific justification for continuing to use this concept. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.