Part of the solution, not the problem: : the crowd's role in emergency response

Jennifer Cole, Montine Walters, Mark Lynch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

149 Downloads (Pure)


This paper seeks to explore ways in which the response required to deal with terrorist threats of the 21st century differs from that required to respond to threats the UK has faced in the past, in particular the threat from the Irish Republican Army (IRA). It explores the resilience of crowds to suicide bomb attacks, including the ability of spontaneous, competent ‘zero’ responders to emerge from within the crowd before professional first responders arrive at the incident scene. The first part of the paper will cover the history of terrorist attacks on the UK and Europe that have resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties and will compare these with mass casualty incidents resulting from causes other than terrorism. The speed with which professional responders can reach the incident site will be considered and potential sources of immediate response, including that provided by members of the public who are themselves caught up in the event, will be discussed. The second part will consider scenarios in which the ‘normal’ response chain (in which professional first responders are summoned to the incident site and arrive promptly) is broken. Responders may be prohibited from reaching the casualties because the incident has taken place in a location that is difficult to access; because they cannot access the casualties without putting themselves in danger; and because of hostage situations in which terrorists actively deny access to the incident site. It will be argued that in such cases current thinking on the response to terrorism may need to be modified. At times the affected crowd may need to fend for itself, drawing on resources, knowledge and skills that exist within the crowd itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361
Number of pages375
JournalContemporary Social Science: Journal of the Academy of Social Sciences
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 17 Nov 2011


  • Emergency response
  • Resilience
  • Crowd psychology

Cite this