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The Myth of Public Panic

11/01/2010 3:04 PM

You hear it in every bad movie but you also here if from some of those that we depend on to make very important decisions for us. "Don't let the public know, they will panic!" I've wracked my brain I cannot come up with one example of this public panic. Oh sure there have been stampedes at sporting events, rock concerts, even religious sites that have killed people. But i'm talking about the mass panic where public order breaks down on a city wide (or larger) scale. It didn't happen in England during the blitz where the entire poulation of major cities knew the bombers were coming every night. My mother used to tell me they would take their tea out on the balcony to watch the dog fights. It didn't happen on 9/11, not even on the plane once the people learned they were on a missle aimed at Washington. In fact it is probably due to those peoples courage and lack of panic that there has not been a hijacking since then. (and the locked cockpit doors)

So where does this idea come from that the powers that be have to keep the bad news from us little folks because we will all immediately go to pieces?

Do you think there would be a break down of public order if it became known beyond a reasonable doubt that some major global diaster was imminent?

What type of information could and/or should be kept from the public? Why?

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#1

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/01/2010 7:01 PM

There was a lot of chatter about Y2K, but not exactly panic. There were stories of panic at Orson Welles's "War of the Worlds" broadcast in 1938, but some of the stories might have been part of the broadcast itself. Later examination has suggested that there was not so much disruption.

Generally I think few secrets should be withheld from the public, but one temptation to do so might stem from the hope of solving the problem before it becomes noticeable.

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#3
In reply to #1

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/01/2010 8:38 PM

As far as Y2K there was apparently some wonder, and money was spent on Cobal? - programming using the original codes. Banks spent money on that and generators. Things turned out alright.

In the case of the Wikileaks horrible thing is that names of informants were published. Spies whose identities are revealed get imprisoned and killed. Even ethical journalists know it it a bad move to reveal their sources.

Guess the amateurs are simply powerful idiots.

If you don't know there is a problem, you are not likely to work on a solution.

Therefore news has value, even when bad.

People have panicked and gone to the bank to get their money. Banks and AIG got money printed and given to them because if they didn't panic demanding money they would be broke, since they, lost all the money. It is sortah as if they lost all the money, entrusted to them for management really. I am reminded of children who kill their parents and beg the mercy of the court because they are orphans.

At anyrate there is a difference between something happening right now, and something you have been warned about as possible.

On the planes panic would have been a good thing really, if as the sort of the Pennsylvania crash produced. You may dispute that as not really panic, but it is clear that those passengers knew it was a right now serious situation where there was little to lose one way or another for them.

Thanks for the panic attack imperative reminder. I have serious physical reasons for panic. If I didn't hurt so much I'd be better at frantic panic.

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#2

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/01/2010 8:30 PM

People are slowly becoming aware that there is a difference between reality and the movies.

Now, if only someone would tell the cast...

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#4

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/01/2010 9:25 PM

You have an answer in the post. At the beginning of the bombing of London, we ran to the shelters because we didn't know what to expect. We had been issued gas masks and didn't know if we would need them. Within weeks we learned the risk, we stopped running except in the areas of high concentration such as the docks, where the risk was very high.

There was near panic on 9/11, it didn't show as action because there was nothing to be done, nobody knew where the next one would happen, there was nowhere to run to.

It is the imagination, working on a threat of unknown malignity, that causes panic.

Of course, there may will be other valid answers.

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/01/2010 10:43 PM

Of course there is Public Panic. They all rush to the scene of the accident, bomb, tornado, looting or what have you because they get in a "Panic" they will miss out on something.

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#6

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/01/2010 11:32 PM

I completely agree that public panic is an overblown rare phenomena. We must remember that it is still a real threat, that thankfully rarely happens. I'm glad that you included the stampedes that have happened at sporting events, rock concerts, and religious sites. Sadly stampedes can even happen from just Christmas shopping. I understand that these tragedies do not merit the complete breakdown of orderly life, but the riots after Martin Luther King Jr. being assassinated, the 1992 Los Angeles riot after the acquittal of the LA Police that beat Rodney King for trying to escape a moving violation, the 2001 Cincinnati riots to name just a few of the many riots that have happened in the United States alone. I'm certain that the US is not unique to displaying this ugly side of human panic.

Frankly, I'm envious that you cannot think of a complete breakdown of civility. I wonder if I could retire to Edmonton.

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#7

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 12:20 AM

Running from a gunman, trying to draw all my money from a failing bank or worrying about terrorists are all perfectly reasonable responses to unusual events.

Afterwards, when we get all the information we can calmly assess the actual risks.

Part of the problem must be the medias tendency to exaggerate (and straight out lie) to sell papers.

Where I live the gov. want to buy back the water rights from any farmers who want to sell, to ensure the river system doesn't die. But the local papers report the gov. wants to "steal" the water. They interview local retards who complain about the gov. destroying their farms and they then publish photo-shopped pictures of what "our" farms will look like after the water is stolen. Predictably the credulous panic which prompts more stories about rural anger. Just another beat-up.

Refer to FOX news for more examples.

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#8

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 1:32 AM

A really profound and pertinent question. five stars

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#9

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 3:28 AM

Plenty of people died on 911 because they were told to stay put and don't panic.
Last week we had a train break down in our region, it was less that half a mile from the station, (the power was on overhead wires not electrified track).
People were kept waiting for 4 hours to be let off the train. A group of people in one carriage forced open the doors got out and walked to the station.
A spokesidiot for the rail company insisted that the only safe place was in the train, and that walking alongside the track was unsafe...what a pillock.
Would you have waited or got out? Mmmm maybe it depends who else was in the carriage?
Del

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#10

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 6:12 AM

It's very lucky that people are a lot more sensible than government and the media give them credit for being. Imaging what the world would be like if people really behaved like they do in Godzilla movies!

Case in point. Remember when that airliner hit a flock of birds and flamed out shortly after takeoff? The pilot put it down in the East river; everybody got out and everybody was rescued. It was probably the most-filmed almost-disaster ever, with numerous cameras catching the ditching from many angles. What struck me the most was that, once the place came to rest, the emergency exits over the wing were opened, and people filed out in an orderly manner and stood calmly on the wing panels waiting for rescue. One guy (?) slipped off the starboard wingtip, but was promptly pulled back aboard by fellow passengers. Voice recordings of traffic in the cockpit and communications with three different airports show everybody calmly doing exactly what he is supposed to do: the ATC people acknowledge the mayday and clear traffic at their respective airports in case the airliner needs to attempt a dead-stick landing at one of them; the pilot calmly informs them that is not possible. Rescue services are alerted, and as soon as the plane is spotted touching down on the water boats swarm out to pick up the occupants. There are no collisions on the water and the passengers are promptly evacuated to shore and accounted for.

Now imagine if a Hollyweird screenwriter had been assigned to write a screenplay based on a complete loss of propulsive power shortly after takeoff, in some of the busiest airspace in the Northeast.

The pilot and copilot would argue over the best course of action, then wrestle each other over the controls. The cabin crew and passengers would panic and a riot would erupt in the back of the 'plane. The airplane would finally make a hard landing in the middle of a group of boats, damaging the airframe and sinking several boats. Passengers would trample each other in the aisles and jam the doorways. All the doors would be open - not just the right ones - and the aircraft would quickly flood and founder. Passengers struggling in the water would be run down and chopped to bits by motorboats racing to save survivors of the boats sunk by the plane. And so on.

It's a jaundiced view of our own species that needs to be refuted. My favorite counter is Heinlein's "This I believe."

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#11
In reply to #10

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 6:24 AM

Then, after sinking to the bottom of the river bed it would burst into flames killing all the fish!

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#23
In reply to #11

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 1:25 PM

The unburned fuel would then rise to the surface, killing millions of birds, and rendering hundreds of square miles of estuaries uninhabitable for thousands of years!

Of course, if all the birds were dead, the planes could fly safely.

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#25
In reply to #23

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 3:41 PM

Ah! A self correcting problem!

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#12

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 7:28 AM

Well, I suppose it hinges a bit on your definition of panic.

If you mean wild-eyed people tearing through the streets in all directions, screaming and crying then I'd have to say probably not. But if you mean people making knee-jerk reactions based solely on fear, misinformation and disinformation then sure.

One personal example: Immediately after 9/11 a close relative called to tell me he was placing an order for some gas masks and wanted to know if we wanted one too. I pointed out that we all (him included) live several hundreds of miles from NY & DC, that our little rural town only had one industry that might even barely make a target, that gas masks were only effective for a short time and for certain things, that he likely wouldn't have it with him when needed, etc. Yet he went ahead and bought a few for himself and others. I call that panic.

One might also include some of our recent (and current?) political campaigns. No longer do candidates expound on what they will do to better things. Rather they play on the simmering panic among the electorate - "If you don't elect me...EVIL WILL HAPPEN!!!" And the people just eat it up with a quivering spoon.

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#29
In reply to #12

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/03/2010 8:46 AM

"One might also include some of our recent (and current?) political campaigns. No longer do candidates expound on what they will do to better things. Rather they play on the simmering panic among the electorate - "If you don't elect me...EVIL WILL HAPPEN!!!" And the people just eat it up with a quivering spoon."

I also consider this as a panic. Look at the results of the yesterday's elections or look at the past decades of choices in the voting of our elected officials. It is just to bad that the majority of voters either vote for one party all the time, or bounce back and forth between the Democrats and Republicans.

Back on topic: Americans panic all of the time. It is part of being in a passive society. We panic with our money. Reports of the stock market crashing and we quit investing which stagnates our economy. People still are not investing in stocks like they were a few years ago. The airlines are still trying to recover from 9/11 and the public panic that it isn't safe to fly. Around here, it sprinkles, rains, or a few snow flakes fall and people drive below the minimum speed limit or are parked under a bridge as if it were a blizzard. See a cop and everyone hits the brakes in all lanes (Indiana is a slow down OR move over state). The tornado sirens go off and everyone hides in their bathrooms or basements while I sit outside and watch the storm. Along that line, look at how civility broke down after Katrina hit New Orleans.

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#30
In reply to #29

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/03/2010 7:42 PM

One night I was awakened by a bat flying around in my dark bedroom. The cat was trying to kill it. I awoke with a bat flying into my face making its sonar sound. I screamed and naked jumped from the bed, somehow found a broom, and killed the poor trapped bat.

The cat was a help with the bat killing.

I went to bed. After returning to hard sleep we were awakened by the first bats mate. I didn't kill that bat. Captured it sleeping in a jar the next daylight after shooing it into another room.

Took pictures of it in a jar and let it go.

Pilots do know panic helps little in either situations that deserve it, and situations that don't. I suppose this is why I just want an airport to live on around all the pilots.

(I shall avoid flying in Cessna 152s. I think I sort of hated that plane. For planes that light I want some ground effect and liked the Tomahawk better.)

At anyrate there are lessons about panic which does happen in one manner or another based on reality or nothing particularly all that really threatening.

My bat story is about how once I felt "panic", overcame the reason for it with violence, but recognized this extreme was not required, later in the night.

Wasn't in the plane in an upside down flat spin, but wish I had been so I would know more about reasons to panic, pray, or whistle.

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#13

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 7:40 AM

The general public is sooooooooooo incredibly stupid that they are collectively incapable of panic.

Unless, of course, all the idiotic reality shows on television were canceled at the same time.

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#14
In reply to #13

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 7:57 AM
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#17
In reply to #13

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 10:14 AM

..........and of course, you are sooooooooooooooo (did I get enuf os?) incredibly smart?

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#18
In reply to #17

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 10:25 AM

I don't believe we were talking about individuals.

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#15

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 8:13 AM

In the late seventies, we had a public panic. On a Friday forenoon, the weather stations started reporting a lake-effect blizzard starting at Cleveland and predicted to barrel toward Pittsburgh at perhaps 60 or 70 mph. Public officials urged businesses to release workers to go home early and avoid the expected foot or so of snow. Two things happened: There was almost immediate gridlock downtown, lasting about another eight hours; and people began running to the stores to buy milk and toilet paper (go figure!). Some stores experienced people simply stealing those items and running out without standing in line or paying. Others had people fighting over shortages of those items.

Around 3:00 pm, the sun came out and it turned into a reasonably pleasant winter afternoon. Cleveland had a few inches of snow, but they deserved it for cheering the Browns.

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#16

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 10:12 AM

I would rather not know that there is a huge asteroid 12 hours away from a direct collision with earth. So please, Mr. Powers That Be, don't tell me.

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#19

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 10:25 AM

I agree with most of the foregoing and it would appear that we are a rational bunch given bad situations.

The one instance of mass panic that comes to my mind would be; In 1949 there was a bingo pallor in Maryland that caught fire, there was no particular ordnance concerning the direction of door opening at designated exits and this particular building had been built with the doors opening in wards. Of course when the flames and smoke caused people to "panic" the rush of people to the exit caused the bodies to pile up at the door from that same rational bunch in the back trying to get out. I can only wonder if one person could have gotten to a microphone and explained the situation would the outcome have been different?

Given the scenario offered by Apothicus of a city or state situation I think it is a coin toss, lets say you have a tsunami rushing towards a city at 600 mph and is 100 miles from the city, and there is no escape for the people 400 miles inland would warning the coastal areas be a major concern? Would panic be a consideration?

Given a little tougher one there is a religious nut in the middle of Manhattan with a suitcase nuke. You aren't sure of who or where he is. You don't know if you are going to catch him. You call it, I can almost guarantee you a total panic.

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#20
In reply to #19

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 11:23 AM

I like your last scenerio and would like to consider how you will catch the guy with the nuke. Will 1,000 police be able to find him in time or do you increase the odds considerably by having 5,000,000 civilians join in the search? Neighbourhood watch on a grand scale does work.

Places that have faced terrorism on a daily basis have adapted. No bag or parcel left unattended goes unreported in a country where things like that have a tendancy to explode.

While I have been lucky enough to have never faced any situation that I could compare to what some people live with on a daily basis but I did live in Montreal during the "quiet" revolution when our local lunatic sepratists were placing bombs in mailboxes. Life went on, people continued to use the postal service. I lived through the ice storm there as well. I remember no panic, no hoarding, in fact I remember seeing people buying cases of bottled water and when they realized they were buying the last case they would open it and only take half the bottles. Leaving the other half for the next person. People in my apartment building went around to check on all the elderly resident to make sure they were getting at least one hot meal a day and had any necessities they needed. That is the type of behavior I think is more typical of the general public than the raving maniacs you see depicted in the movies or Fox news. Didn't all the reports of murder and rape reported in the aftermath of Katrina turn out to be lies?

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#27
In reply to #20

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 9:22 PM

I just noticed that you've misspelled Faux News. Is that one of those Canadian spellings, like honour or colour?

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#21

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 12:44 PM

If the local Atlanta TV stations report that snowflakes are falling in Chattanooga, the entire city of Atlanta heads to the store to buy milk, eggs and bread.

I guess they like snow so much they celebrate by making French toast.

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#22

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 12:52 PM

There is rational "panic", as when people are preparing for or fleeing from a hurricane, and there is irrational panic, as when people in authority, who are convinced they know best what to do, do the wrong things. Don't just stand there; do something, anything, to show you are in charge. When New Orleans was flooded, the panic was mostly on the part of the "authorities", such as the shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later police. The raping and pillaging were figments of the imagination of media folk. People in authority, such as police, FEMA folks, administrators, and journalists who have no authoirity but think they do, tend to be irrational and to react without thinking. Example: a school principal suspends a student for bringing a weapon to school. The "weapon" is a picture, on paper, of a gun. The person in authority has long since lost his capacity for thinking and responds with "zero tolerance." Example: There was a train derailment (It was so hot in Dayton, Ohio that the rails expanded and buckled), and a tank car full of phosphorus caught fire, spreading clouds of phosphorus pentoxide across the landscape. The authorities and the media went bananas, with tales of terrible phosphorus burns, noting that the military fills shells with phosphorus. Police evacuated downwind neighborhoods, and the media advised people to seal their windows and doors and turn off their air conditioners, on the hottest day of the year, to avoid exposure to the "toxic" cloud. Thousands of people, many of them, like myself, drivers encountering the cloud unexpectedly, were exposed to the frightful stuff. Hospitals went into disaster mode, preparing for thousands of patients. NO ONE WAS HURT! Not even a case of irritated eyes! Anyone who has encountered phosphorus smoke in the military (used to screen friendly troops and in training) or taken high school chemistry should know that phosphorus smoke is not as bad as dust from a farmer's field or even ragweed pollen. It is a good fertilizer.

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#24

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 3:26 PM

I think it depends on the extent of the crisis effecting a society as a whole such as multiple nuclear strikes or inability to purchase goods with digital funds due to economic collapse. We live in a very different time then the bombing of London because urban populations are much more dependent due to lack of skill sets for supporting self and family with the essentials. When food, drinkable water, heat become long term issues I think mass panic can happen. However these types of events would not be able to be kept from the general public by authorities anyway.

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#26

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/02/2010 8:37 PM

Public panic is not a myth! City-wide panic may not happen often, but I think of the Great Chicago Fire and Peshtigo, WI, which happened the same day. Chicago was significant enough that it brought about Fire Prevention Week.

There have been quite a few other panics that I know of in the fire service. Another is the Iroquois Theater fire; the result of this was laws that doors in public buildings should open outward in the direction people are going to exit.

Then, in relatively recent times, there was the Beverly Hills Supper Club in KY. There have been other clubs which had only one exit that the public knew about.

I'm not too good at remembering these quickly; so, if you want a list, I'll try to generate one.

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#28
In reply to #26

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/03/2010 6:08 AM

In my opinion panic does not become involved unless information is withheld. If you have all the information, you act on it and Hopefully do not panic, making critical path mistakes.

The crew chief comes on the radio telling you, WE have a rocket motor burning in the tube! OK, Thanks for the information. Crawl out of your seat and go back only to find that rounds in the fuel cell are trailing JP-4 which is leaving a real nice fire ball behind you. Again More Information! A Good Thing. Still No Panic!

Walk back forward and pull the handle to fire the explosive bolts and dump the entire rocket pod! Pull it several more times! More Information, None of which is Good, but because you have it, you don't panic, you make decisions.

You can't run the risk of landing!! The guy's you were shooting up will be the welcoming party! At a low landing speed that burning fuel will catch up to the fuel source and ?? Not many choices, but nobody withheld the necessary information from you.

Still No Panic!! You pick up the crew chiefs machine gun, stand facing backwards on the skid outside and unload 100 or so rounds on the gun/rocket attach points and watch it as it falls to the ground, the fire goes out and you limp back to a safe area to land.

When you get out, you Panic, because no one told you you Pissed all over yourself and your fellow aviators will see what happened when they arrive to help. You had the information, but you ignored it while you were concentrating on something else! At least you had it !!!

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#31

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/05/2010 11:35 AM

Maybe the closest occurrence of what you seek was the reaction to Orson Well's radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds." Made newspaper headlines the next day.

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#32
In reply to #31

Re: The Myth of Public Panic

11/05/2010 11:37 AM

P.S. - Another link.

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