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IU Media Relations

Jerome Chertkoff
Department of Psychology

Last modified: Monday, April 14, 2003

Ship evacuations such as Titanic studied by IUB psychologist

Factors that can make the difference between life and death in evacuations of passenger ships are the subject of a new study by Jerome Chertkoff, an emeritus professor of psychology at Indiana University Bloomington.

Chertkoff's research report, titled "Comparative Case Studies of Passenger Ship Evacuation," has been accepted for presentation this summer in London, England, at the Second International Conference in Pedestrian and Evacuation Dynamics.

"This research paper is a comparison of 12 famous cases of unsuccessful passenger ship evacuations, including the Titanic, and four famous cases of successful evacuations," said Chertkoff, one of the few social psychologists in the world who study these emergencies.

The goal of this research is to determine what factors lead to a successful evacuation, whether from a ship or airplane or in a fire emergency. "We ultimately would like to achieve conditions where exiting is efficient and successful in escaping from a potential disaster," he said.

A recent book by Chertkoff and colleague Russell Kushigian, titled Don't Panic: The Psychology of Emergency Egress and Ingress, cites 10 characteristics associated with unsuccessful emergency egress from structures on land. "Many of these also are present in the case of passenger ships, but five additional factors can affect a ship evacuation," Chertkoff said.

The 10 factors from the book are passage restrictions, crowd size, path knowledge, emergency planning/training, perceived severity of outcome, perceived time available, using the most salient path, leader influence, crowd density and congestion beyond exterior openings. The additional five factors for ships are speed of sinking, weather, communication, arrival of rescuers and survival capacity.

Ship architects and others concerned with maritime safety should address these five additional factors, Chertkoff said. "Historically they have, to some extent," he said, "but there is clearly still room for improvement in safeguarding ships against disaster and in safeguarding passengers and crews when disaster strikes. Accidents still happen. Ships still collide in fog. Ships still catch fire. Ships still run aground."

One of the problems facing Chertkoff in his research is getting accurate and reliable information. "It's difficult to obtain detailed, comprehensive, accurate information about successful evacuations," he explained. "Failed cases often generate investigative hearings, government reports, extensive media coverage, books and even movies, as the Titanic disaster did. Successful cases only rarely generate that kind of attention."

In addition to the Titanic hitting an iceberg on its maiden cruise in 1912, the unsuccessful examples in his study include the Lusitania being torpedoed by Germans in 1915 during World War I. The four successful examples are the Republic in 1909, the Andrea Doria in 1956, the Viking Princess in 1966 and the Prinsendam in 1980.

Chertkoff, who retired in 2000 but still has teaching and advising duties at IU Bloomington, has more than 30 years of experience in the psychological fields of group process, social conflict, group performance and decision making. He is now writing a book about ship evacuations.

For more details, contact Chertkoff at 812-855-7910 or