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Experts Weigh in on “Attack Panic” at American Airports

“Hyper-vigilance” and high-profile attacks may contribute to fears and mass panic.

Coming on the heels of two airports undergoing false active shooter reports, experts have weighed in on the factors that contribute to these incidents. In a recent report from BBC News, three different theories are presented as to why these false reports take place.

The theories come after five terminals of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) were evacuated on reports of a shooting attack on Sunday, August 28. Information was spread by word-of-mouth and social media, leading to mass panic. One week before, John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York was evacuated after loud cheering was mistaken for the beginning of a shooting attack.

One expert believes that the cause of these mass-panic situations stems from an over-sensitivity to the spontaneous nature of attacks. Because of this, a small trigger that could be mistaken for a gunshot or screaming may turn into a report, resulting in chaos.

“What we are seeing is the power of the mind and the group when people are anxious or hyper-vigilant and concerned about threats,” Gary Small, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, told BBC News. “It’s quite understandable what’s happening – it’s human nature. If you think you’re in a dangerous situation, you are going to respond.”

Another theory focuses on the high-profile nature of shootings in the United States. At least one expert believes that because shootings are so common and widely reported, Americans are predisposed to reacting to potential attacks.

“Gun violence has permeated our conversations and our existence,” Tricia Wachtendorf, director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware, told BBC News. “If you are an everyday person and you hear there might be a shooter – and you have not got any information that contradicts that – it seems reasonable to me that you would move forward with an abundance of caution.

Although both incidents caused disruption for hours at both airports, the exercises showed that people can react with caution and safely escape from potential danger, according to some experts, and both situations could be important for travelers to remember in the event of a real emergency.

[Photo: Fox News]

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KRSW September 1, 2016

Let's get something straight -- in BOTH cases, it was the TSA & police who over-reacted, not the passengers. I think everyone needs to sit back and realistically look at the probability of being involved in a terrorist attack. Even if the TSA checkpoints were just UNmanned WTMDs, on the honor system, we wouldn't see a meaningful increase in terrorist attacks. If anything, other pax are really going to give the stink-eye to someone who sets off the machine and keep an eye on them the entire flight.