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Normative Collective Behavior in The Station Building Fire


  • *Direct correspondence to B. E. Aguirre, DRC, University of Delaware, Graham Hall, Newark, DE 19716 〈〉. This research is supported in part by the Civil Infrastructure System of the National Science Foundation, Grant 0408363. The authors are solely responsible for its contents. The authors will share all data and coding information with anyone wishing to use it for appropriate research purposes after ongoing research at the DRC using the data set is finished. The authors thank the anonymous SSQ reviewers and editorial staff.


Objective. This article offers a test of the normative explanation of collective behavior by examining the fire at the Station nightclub in Rhode Island that killed 100 and injured nearly 200 persons.

Methods. Information on all persons at the club comes from content analysis of documents from the Rhode Island Police Department, the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General, and The Providence Journal. We use negative binomial regression to test hypotheses about the effects of group-level predictors of the counts of dead and injured in 179 groups at the nightclub.

Results. Results indicate that group-level factors such as distance of group members at the start of the fire, the number of intimate relations among them, the extent to which they had visited the nightclub prior to the incident, and the average length of the evacuation route they used predict counts of injured and dead. The research also looks at what behavioral differences exist between survivors and victims, ascertains the existence of role extension among employees of the nightclub, and provides support for the affirmation that dangerous contexts negate the protective influence of intimate relations in groups.

Conclusion. We argue for the abandonment of current emphasis on irrationality and herd-like imitative behavior in studies of evacuation from structural fires in buildings and for the inclusion of group-level processes in social psychological explanations of these incidents.