Popular culture contains a readily recognisable image that comes to mind whenever we refer to mass emergencies, disasters or evacuations. That image is ‘mass panic’. Mass panic refers to a number of psychological features. These include exaggerated perceptions of danger, and instincts for personal survival overwhelming civilised behaviours. The behavioural effects of mass panic are said to include disorder and a lack of co-ordination. The crowd might have been able to escape the fire if people had filed out in an orderly fashion. Instead, they jammed a limited exit, fighting with each other and even trampling their own grandmothers, in their desperation to escape! Yet we can also easily bring to mind popular representations of collective responses to emergencies that are quite the reverse of this negative image. Clichés like the ‘spirit of the Blitz’ and the ‘British Bulldog spirit’ evoke an enhanced sense of community, solidarity and strength in adversity: people coming together, talking to their neighbours, offering mutual support, taking responsibility for others, remaining in control of their emotions, and so on. It is much more than an academic matter which of these representations we choose to believe. Each has very specific and quite different implications for the management of crowds in public spaces and events. We shall draw out each of these implications in the course of this article. First however, let us ask what the research evidence tells us about which is right.