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Emergency responders’ experiences of and expectations regarding decontamination

Holly Elisabeth Carter (Emergency Response Department, Public Health England, Salisbury, UK)
John Drury (School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK)
G. James Rubin (Department of Psychological Medicine, King's College London, London, UK)
Richard Williams (Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care, University of South Wales, Pontypridd, UK)
Richard Amlôt (Emergency Response Department, Public Health England, Salisbury, UK)

International Journal of Emergency Services

ISSN: 2047-0894

Article publication date: 7 October 2014




There is an assumption in emergency planning that the public will “panic” or refuse to comply in the event of mass decontamination. This assumption has serious implications for how the public will be managed. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


The authors carried out semi-structured interviews with 13 emergency responders, six of whom had experience of incidents involving decontamination. The authors asked them, first, about their experiences of these events and, second, about their expectations for decontamination involving a large crowd. The aim was to explore the extent to which responders perceived non-compliance and anxiety as (crowd) problems during decontamination, and if so, how they felt that they could be addressed.


Responders with experience of decontamination perceived non-compliance and excessive anxiety to be rare, and suggested that orderly behaviour was more common. However, the majority of emergency responders with no experience of decontamination said they expected panic and non-compliance. They therefore emphasised the importance of “controlling”, rather than communicating with, the public.

Research limitations/implications

The authors argue that “control”-based emergency management strategies can impact negatively on the relationship between the public and responders, and hence hinder effective management of an incident. It would therefore be beneficial to provide training for emergency responders on likely public behaviour during incidents involving decontamination.


This research extends previous research by facilitating a detailed understanding of emergency responders’ experiences and perceptions of managing incidents involving decontamination, and showing how these experiences and perceptions can affect the way in which such incidents are managed.



Holly Carter is funded by a Public Health England R&D PhD Studentship. The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the funders.


Elisabeth Carter, H., Drury, J., James Rubin, G., Williams, R. and Amlôt, R. (2014), "Emergency responders’ experiences of and expectations regarding decontamination", International Journal of Emergency Services, Vol. 3 No. 2, pp. 179-192.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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