Keele Professor to help develop research on how authorities respond to mass emergencies

A research team including Keele’s Professor Clifford Stott has successfully secured funding for two major research projects worth over £1.5 million from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), to help societies better respond to mass emergencies including COVID-19.

The research projects will add further capacity to Keele’s Centre of Policing and Academic Collaboration (KPAC) which has been awarded the grants for two separate projects, which are focused on tackling the huge societal challenges in how nations respond to situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as more immediate emergencies like terrorist attacks.

One of the studies has been funded through the UKRI’s Ideas to Address COVID-19 grant call. This project will explore ways of supporting and sustaining people during future pandemics. Using data from the current crisis, the researchers will build upon existing knowledge of psychological group processes to address how to develop and sustain shared senses of community and promote social solidarity during such crises.

While the study will be centred around the issues of adherence to public health guidance, promoting mutual aid, and preventing social disorder, Keele’s contribution will be focused on the UK’s civil contingency response. Researchers within KPAC will explore how the authorities handled the crisis and how their actions impacted upon people’s capacities and willingness to adhere to Government advice. The research will be vital in assessing how societies can be better prepared to cope with future mass outbreaks of diseases.

The second study, funded through the ESRC’s Open Call, will investigate the psychological dynamics of crowd ‘stampedes’ in response to a perceived hostile threat, such as a terrorist incident. This project aims to understand how people respond collectively to a perceived state of emergency, even when this turns out to be a false alarm.

Keele’s contribution to this second project will focus on developing large scale Civil Contingency exercises, with a view to putting the scientific research into practice. The work will be used to inform government guidance and emergency service worker training to help improve public safety during future emergencies.

The Keele contributions to both projects will be led by KPAC’s Director Professor Stott who will be working with colleagues from the Universities of Sussex, St Andrews, Oxford, Edinburgh, Canterbury Christ Church, and Lund. The projects also enjoy key partnerships with the Cabinet Office, Public Health England, West Yorkshire Police, Staffordshire Civil Contingency Unit, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, and the College of Policing among others.

Both of these studies support KPAC’s growing scope and its expanding mission to underpin Keele’s institutional priority of creating world class high impact research on sustainable security and governance, linked directly to Keele’s flagship research Institutes for Sustainable Futures, Inclusion and Global Health.

Since KPAC was created four years ago it has captured funded projects to a total value of over three and half million pounds. These latest projects are key milestones in KPAC's mission to create a foundation for a broader range of research linked to global challenges.

Professor Stott, Dean of Research for the Faculty of Natural Sciences, said: “As COVID-19 shows us, the challenges ahead for human society are profound. A key ambition for KPAC is to develop research that helps defend human rights and in so doing, secures democratic forms of security and governance. We are delighted to be awarded with two highly prestigious programmes of funding from UKRI which will help expand our portfolio of already highly impactful world class research.”