Simulating Dynamical Features of Escape Panic

28 Sep 2000  ·  Dirk Helbing, Illes Farkas, Tamas Vicsek ·

One of the most disastrous forms of collective human behaviour is the kind of crowd stampede induced by panic, often leading to fatalities as people are crushed or trampled. Sometimes this behaviour is triggered in life-threatening situations such as fires in crowded buildings; at other times, stampedes can arise from the rush for seats or seemingly without causes. Tragic examples within recent months include the panics in Harare, Zimbabwe, and at the Roskilde rock concert in Denmark. Although engineers are finding ways to alleviate the scale of such disasters, their frequency seems to be increasing with the number and size of mass events. Yet, systematic studies of panic behaviour, and quantitative theories capable of predicting such crowd dynamics, are rare. Here we show that simulations based on a model of pedestrian behaviour can provide valuable insights into the mechanisms of and preconditions for panic and jamming by incoordination. Our results suggest practical ways of minimising the harmful consequences of such events and the existence of an optimal escape strategy, corresponding to a suitable mixture of individualistic and collective behaviour.

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Statistical Mechanics Soft Condensed Matter