What is panic anyways ?

If you remember my first blog you might remember that I didn’t know how to ride a bike. Well, seems that I have finally overcome a childhood fear and now I do know how to! But let´s go back a few months and remember when I said that I ¨panic¨ just with the idea to ride a bike… because, what is panic anyways?

One week before spring break, we started with the second part of our semester with a really expected course called ¨Human Behavior¨. Since last year, we´ve been hearing just good impressions about it, and let me tell you, we were not disappointed. The class is interesting and the professors are constantly challenging us to break our paradigms. For example, when I say that I used to ¨panic¨ with the idea of riding a bike, what do I mean? is it really panic? Does panic even exist?

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Before continuing with the reading, please take a couple of seconds to try to make a panic definition of your own, done? Ok, let’s go further into it.

It is said that panic is a reaction involving terror, confusion and irrational behavior, precipitated by a threatening situation (Goldenson, 1984) however, can you picture any other way out of the 5th floor of a burning or collapsing building that isn’t by jumping to the void when you have smoke all around you? If you can’t think of other way to save yourself, is it really irrational to take the only choice you think you have at the moment?

These sorts of ideas were discussed in seminars and classes, each of them with different points of view and examples of what panic means in the media, and why is not ok to use this term when referring to fatalities in fire scenarios. For example, in 1903 a fire at the Iroquois theatre in Chicago occurred leaving at least 602 deaths. The newspapers were stating the victims “panic state” for the deaths as when the doors of the theatre opened, they found bodies piled up behind doors and under windows, supporting the theory that “panic didn’t allow them to think rationally and look for secondary exits than the entrance door and windows” however, now we know that poor fire safety measures lead to the unnecessary fatalities, and regulations were improved after this tragedy.

Iroquois theater
Iroquois theatre, Chicago 1903

During human behavior classes, we learn a lot about the decision-making process that people follow during fire situations, and now we have different persepectives on how safety measures in building designs should be implemented considering the most likely human responses in emergencies.

Its important to stress enough the significance of having a class like this through our preparation, but is funny how it does not only increases your knowledge in the fire safety field, but it also changes your communication skills. Now, every time I find myself about to use the world ¨panic¨I stop and change it towards a more appropiate way to define my state of mind. Instead of saying ¨I used to panic in front of a bike¨ now I say ¨I was afraid of falling off the bike and hurt myself, but now I´m even going to the beach with my friends by bike¨

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