Letters to Nature

Nature 407, 487-490 (28 September 2000) | doi:10.1038/35035023; Received 2 June 2000; Accepted 31 August 2000

Simulating dynamical features of escape panic

Dirk Helbing1,2, Illés Farkas3 & Tamás Vicsek1,3

  1. Collegium Budapest–Institute for Advanced Study, Szentháromság u. 2, H-1014 Budapest, Hungary
  2. Institute for Economics and Traffic, Dresden University of Technology, D-01062 Dresden, Germany
  3. Department of Biological Physics, Eötvös University, Pázmány Péter Sétány 1A, H-1117 Budapest, Hungary

Correspondence to: Dirk Helbing1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to D.H. (e-mail: Email: helbing@trafficforum.de).

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 buildings1, 2; at other times, stampedes can arise during the rush for seats3, 4 or seemingly without cause. 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 events2, 5. But systematic studies of panic behaviour6, 7, 8, 9 and quantitative theories capable of predicting such crowd dynamics5, 10, 11, 12 are rare. Here we use a model of pedestrian behaviour to investigate the mechanisms of (and preconditions for) panic and jamming by uncoordinated motion in crowds. Our simulations suggest practical ways to prevent dangerous crowd pressures. Moreover, we find an optimal strategy for escape from a smoke-filled room, involving a mixture of individualistic behaviour and collective 'herding' instinct.