Psychological disaster myths in the perception and management of mass emergencies



Disaster myths are said to be widespread and consequential. However, there has been little research on whether those involved in public safety and emergency response believe them. A survey examined how far police officers, civilian safety professionals, sports event stewards and comparison samples from the public believe the myths “mass panic,” “civil disorder,” and “helplessness.” Respondents endorsed the first two myths. However, they rejected the myth of helplessness and endorsed the view that emergency crowds display resilience. Despite these contradictions in stated beliefs, there was also evidence of ideological coherence: each model of mass emergency behavior (maladaptive vs. resilient) was linked to a model of crowd management (coercive and paternalistic vs. mass-democratic). The practical implications of these findings are discussed.