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Panic is a sudden fear which dominates or replaces thinking and often affects groups of people or animals. Panics typically occur in disaster situations, and may endanger the overall health of the affected group. The word panic derives from the name of the Greek god Pan, who strikes fear into the enemies of His subjects.

Prehistoric man used mass panic as a weapon when hunting animals, especially ruminants. Herds reacting to unusually strong sounds or unfamiliar visual effects were directed towards cliffs, where they eventually jumped to their death when cornered.

Humans are also vulnerable to panic and it is often considered infectious, in the sense one person's panic may easily spread to other people nearby and soon the entire group acts irrationally, but people also have the ability to prevent and/or control their own and other's panic by disciplined thinking or training (such as disaster drills). Architects and city planners try to accommodate the symptoms of panic, such as herd behavior, during design and planning, often using simulations to determine the best way to lead people to a safe exit and prevent congestion (stampedes). The most effective methods are often nonintuitive. A tall column, approximately 1 ft in diameter, placed in front of the door exit at a precisely calculated distance, may speed up the evacuation of a large room by up to 30%, as the obstacle divides the congestion well ahead of the choke point.

In sociology, precipitate and irrational actions of a group are often referred to as panics, as for example "sex panic", "stock market panic". (See hysteria). Panic is usually understood to mean active, but senseless behaviour (e.g. trying to flee in a random direction or suddenly attacking others without consideration), while hysteria often carries a more passive notion (as in crying uncontrollably). An influential theoretical treatment of panic by a sociologist is found in Neil J. Smelser's, Theory of Collective Behavior.

The science of panic management has found important practical applications in the armed forces and emergency services of the world.

Many highly publicized cases of deadly panic occurred during massive public events.

The layout of Mecca was extensively redesigned by [Saudi authorities in an attempt to eliminate frequent stampedes, which kills an average of 250 pilgrims every year. [1]

Soccer stadiums have seen deadly crowd rushes and stampedes, such as at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, England, in 1989. This led to controlled entry gates and stricter rules by the end of the 1980s to regulate seating arrangements.

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