University of Sussex
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Crowd behaviour in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) emergencies: behavioural and psychological responses to incidents involving emergency decontamination

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posted on 2023-06-08, 17:27 authored by Holly Elisabeth Carter
Planning for incidents involving mass decontamination has focused almost exclusively on technical aspects of decontamination, with little attempt to understand public experiences and behaviour. This thesis aimed to examine relevant theory and research, in order to understand public behaviour during incidents involving mass decontamination, and to develop theoretically-derived recommendations for emergency responders. As these incidents involve groups, it was expected that social identity processes would play an important role in public responses. A review of small-scale incidents involving decontamination is presented, along with a review of decontamination guidance documents for emergency responders. This literature shows that responder communication strategies play an important role in public experiences and behaviour, but that the importance of communication is not reflected in guidance documents. Theories of mass emergency behaviour, in particular the social identity approach, are reviewed, in order to generate hypotheses and recommendations for the management of incidents involving mass decontamination. It is hypothesised that effective responder communication will increase public compliance and cooperation, and reduce anxiety, mediated by social identity variables (e.g. perceptions of responder legitimacy, identification with emergency responders and other members of public, and collective agency). The empirical research presented in this thesis tests the hypotheses and recommendations derived from the social identity approach. The research includes: a responder interview study; three studies of volunteer feedback from field exercises; a visualisation experiment; and a mass decontamination field experiment. Findings show that effective responder communication consistently results in increased willingness to comply with decontamination, and increased public cooperation; this relationship is mediated by social identity variables. Results support the hypotheses, and show that an understanding of the social identity approach facilitates the development of effective responder communication strategies for incidents involving mass decontamination. Four theoretically-derived, and evidence-based, recommendations for emergency responders are generated as a result of this thesis.


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University of Sussex

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