That’s a good question. Here’s a partial answer that challenges conventional wisdom: most crowds that stampede, crushing people, do so when entering a venue. Why? One reason is that people are more likely to surge forward when they think they are about to be excluded from something. The other more important reason is that most venues aren’t designed for rapid entry. Venue owners erect artificial barriers to entry for commercial reasons. In contrast, most venues are designed to enable fast exits and offer multiple ways to leave (per the fire code, etc.).
The lesson here is that people charged with controlling the crowd (for commercial or “security reasons”) are actually the reason most people die during crowd “stampedes.”
Do People Panic/Riot/Rampage During Disasters?
The conventional wisdom is that people panic during disasters. Worse, it’s assumed that many people immediately become feral looters when disasters hit. Widespread panic has become the government’s worst nightmare. The boogey man that is trotted out to explain why governments need to lie (in order to keep people from panicking) or why military intervention/curfews are necessary.
However, as with stampeding crowds, the conventional wisdom on this is wrong. Rebecca shows in her book, A Paradise Built in Hell, that people don’t typically panic when they find themselves at the ground zero of a disaster (after the immediate danger is over). Through the use of detailed research on a number of extreme disasters, she shows that in most cases people are very practical when confronting disaster. Better yet, they are often more courteous and much more likely to help each other when things fall apart than they are normally. They come together to survive.
In contrast to the people on the ground, she shows that the only people that actually do panic during disasters are the elites — from those with wealth to those running the government’s response (I’m not talking about the first responders actually on the ground doing good work). They panic over the loss of control a disaster brings. This often results in extreme actions that only serve to make things worse: from martial law authorized to use deadly force against looters (often just people trying to survive the situation) to arbitrarily hearding people into locations that aren’t able to support large groups of people.
What This Means
The lesson here is that during an extreme disaster, the people you may most need to fear are those in charge, particularly if their motives are focused on protecting elite interests put at risk by the disaster. Rebecca has a caution for governments that don’t align their actions with those of the people: history shows that disasters can serve as the trigger for revolutions if handled with bad intent.
Phi Beta Iota: On the last remark, that is called a precipitant of revolution, as opposed to the preconditions that already exist, as we have been saying for some time, across the USA.