Saturday, 30 November 2013

Glasgow helicopter crash

So far there have been 8 people confirmed dead, and 32 injured after a police helicopter crashed onto the roof of the Clutha pub in central Glasgow during a concert that was packed with an estimated 120 people. However, despite descriptions of 'panic' and 'pandemonium', again the evidence shows that the behaviour of survivors and eye-witnesses was anything but 'panic', with reports of people running towards the pub to help as soon as the helicopter had crashed (instead of fleeing away from danger). A report by the BBC quotes an eye- witness;
"My own reaction was to run straight up to the pub.It was amazing to watch just how people were trying so hard to get into this building."

The local labour MP, Jim Murphy was in the area when the helicopter crashed, and described the spontaneous co-operation he saw  that happened in the time before the emergency services arrived, as eye-witnesses formed a human chain to help people out of the pub & assist with the casualties. An interview with the Leader of Glasgow city Council also illustrates the general co-operation that happened in the aftermath;

[people] "helped out their fellow human beings who were out having a good time. It's Glasgow at its best you know, if people are in need the spontaneous response is to go to their help. And I want to pay great tribute to that and I'm very proud as leader of the city that that was the reaction. It doesn't surprise me."
Indeed the only people who seem surprised that people weren't running away and 'panicking' in the aftermath of this incident seem to have been the journalists who were interviewing witnesses to this incident!
The scenes of spontaneous co-operation that we have seen in response to this dreadful tragedy illustrate very well how people behave remarkably well during such incidents, and I would argue that it is a universal human response to adversity (although I have been to a  variety of gigs in Glasgow over the years and can also account for the general hospitality and generosity of Glaswegians!). In a previous post , I looked at how the idea of spontaneous help in emergencies by eye-witnesses & bystanders is being increasingly recognised via the concept of 'zero-responders', whereby, those immediately affected by such incidents come together to help each other before help arrives from emergency first responders. Research I have done into 7/7 (e.g. Cocking, 2013), argues that this co-operation happens because people develop a shared sense of identity in response to a common threat which encourages cooperative (rather than selfish) behaviour.
My thoughts go out to the victims and their families of the helicopter crash, and I also hope it is of some comfort to those affected that people's general responses to this disaster yet again contradict the clichéd  views that wrongly predict that such situations will result in selfish and/or 'panicked' behaviour.    
scene of crash
Cocking, C. (2013) Crowd resilience during the 7/7/2005 London Bombings: Implications for the Emergency Services. International Journal of the Emergency Services. 2 (2) 79-93

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Typhoon hits Philippines

Reports are continually being updated, but the shocking extent of Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines is now emerging, with about 2500 dead, 673,000 displaced, and up to 11 million affected in some way by it, according to the BBC, and comparisons with the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami are already being made. Thankfully aid is now beginning to arrive, although there seem to be some logistical issues with getting aid to the more remote areas, as the Philippines is made up of around 7000 islands, and so many survivors may well face delays before getting the help they so desperately need. As with previous disasters in today's age of global media, many journalists have travelled to the Philippines to cover the story. There are of course benefits to such media coverage, as it raises global awareness which can result in increased logistical support and humanitarian aid (the UK Disasters and Emergency Committee has set up an appeal for funding to help the victims which can be reached here). However, I worry that the media also need to be careful that they don't retreat into clichéd reporting of how communities respond to disasters, as they risk perpetuating unfounded myths about mass emergencies.

A common fear is that after disasters, social norms & structures can collapse before the authorities arrive to regain control of the situation and restore order. For instance, a reporter from the BBC's Newsnight on 11/11/2013, talked of 'a growing sense of panic' in Tacloban (the town that was worst hit by the typhoon) with reports of the breakdown of law and order and armed looters on the streets, although there was no footage of such looting, and the interview was filmed while he was walking through deserted streets. A missionary from the US interviewed by the BBC also expressed his worries about a potential 'mob' situation and said, 'we need the military to get there as soon as possible' but this seemed to be more his fears of what might happen rather than descriptions of what was actually going on. Other coverage by the BBC also describes 'desperate survivors looting damaged shops and buildings for whatever they can take'. While such quotes may make sensational headlines, they are rarely backed up by detailed examination of what actually goes on. If such 'looting' happens it is usually the exception (rather than the norm as is often implied in media reports), and local crime rates tend to drop after disasters as survivors support each other and try to re-build their lives.

A previous post I wrote after Hurricane Sandy hit New York in Oct 2012, looked at how coverage of anti-social behaviours post disasters is often vastly exaggerated, with descriptions of such behaviours very much in the eye of the beholder. For instance, the difference between people 'looting' and  'gathering essential supplies' to survive when local infrastructure has broken down, is often a matter of interpretation, and Vorhees et al (2007) argued that descriptions of such behaviour after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 often depended on the ethnicity and/or social class of the people doing it. Indeed, recent research into disasters (e.g. Jacob et al, 2008) has found that the threat of widespread disorder is one of many 'disaster myths' that are not supported by evidence, and such beliefs may be held even by those responsible for emergency management and response (Drury et al, 2013). Some (e.g. Tierney et al, 2006) have also argued that media reports exaggerating 'lawlessness' after disasters are problematic because they reinforce ideological discourses that call for an increased military role in disaster response. This isn't to say that there aren't some benefits of military resources being used to assist with the aid effort (as they will have the equipment and expertise to quickly dispatch aid to remote communities), but I believe disaster relief efforts should  remain as much as possible under the control of the civilian authorities, as militarising disaster relief can perpetuate outdated myths about communities' 'irrational' responses to emergencies.

Survivors in an indoor sports arena in Tacloban, Philippines (12 Nov 2013)
Survivors seeking shelter in the local convention centre in Tacloban- scarily reminiscent of New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina

Drury, J, Novelli, D & Stott, C (2013) Psychological disaster myths in the perception and management of mass emergencies. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. doi: 10.1111/jasp.12176

Jacob, B, Mawson, A, Payton M & Guignard (2008) Disaster mythology and fact: Hurricane Katrina & Social attachment. Public Health reports, 123. 555-566.

Solnit, R. (2008). A Paradise built in Hell: The extraordinary communities that arise in disaster. Viking, New York, US. 

Tierney, K., Bevc, C, & Kuligowski, E. (2006). Metaphors matter: Disaster myths, media frames and their consequences in Hurricane Katrina. ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 604: 57-81. 

Voorhees, C.W., Vick, J. & Perkins D.D. (2007). ‘Came Hell and High Water’: The Intersection of Hurricane Katrina, the News Media, Race and Poverty. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology 17: 415–429.