Exploring the instinct of panic with your students touches on both SEAL and PSHE issues. This assembly looks at the emotion within the context of national fuel crises


This assembly looks at the nature of ‘panic’ with reference to the recent petrol crisis.


Four readers.


Reader 1: Strike at Grangemouth Threatens Petrol Supplies!
Reader 2: Fuel Shortage!
Reader 3: Petrol will Run Out!
Reader 4: Food Supplies will be Interrupted!

Leader: In what ways could a fuel shortage affect you?

Reader 1: I have to get to school this morning on time because I’ve got my exam, so my Dad is giving me a lift.
Reader 2: After school today, I’m going to swimming practice. The pool is only twenty minutes by bus.
Reader 3: A group of us are going into town on Saturday − on the train − because it’s quicker.
Reader 4: I’m flying to Majorca with my family in the summer for our holiday. I can’t wait!

Leader: All these activities could be affected by a serious fuel shortage. Most of us enjoy our daily routines in life, and, even when we don’t − perhaps in times of personal crisis − it’s somehow reassuring to know that the rest of the world is carrying on around us, as usual.

One thing we’re all used to is the freedom to travel. Most of us use transport daily. It’s part of our routine. We catch buses. We ride in cars. We catch trains and, if we’re lucky, we catch planes, too.

The structure of our twenty-first century lives depends on this freedom and, most of the world outside of the UK, is a few hours’ travel away from where we live. Without the freedom to travel, our routines − and consequently our lives − would be very different. How different would your life be if you had to walk everywhere? [Pause]


Travel, as it is at the moment, depends completely on a constant supply of fuel − as do our food supplies. Often food and other goods come from hundreds of miles away to reach the shops nearby where we live. We’ve all heard about the recent petrol crisis. The spark that set this off was as a result of a dispute by workers who run the fuel depot in Grangemouth over proposed changes in their pension scheme. But, in fact, there are hundreds of reasons why the fuel supply could be interrupted in the future, one important one being that there are indications that the sources of oil that we use may well run out unless we find other sources of fuel.

Human beings thrive on routines. Most people like their lives to be as predictable as possible. It makes us feel safe and secure in the knowledge that things will go on as usual − and that our supplies of food and other essentials will not be interrupted. Unfortunately, anything that threatens our routines tends to lead to panic. The definition of panic is:

Reader 1: A sudden overwhelming fear…
Reader 2: …with or without cause…
Reader 3: …that produces irrational behaviour…
Reader 4: …and that often spreads quickly through a group of persons or animals.

Panic leads to interesting human and animal behaviour because it seems to jump from one person to another − and sometimes it leads to irrational behaviour that makes things worse. You’ve all seen pictures of herds of animals − and people − running from danger.

For instance, imagine a crowd of deer grazing peacefully in a forest. One raises its head because it senses danger − perhaps it smells an approaching person who may, or may not, be a real danger. That one deer turns quickly and runs away − and, very quickly, the whole herd catch on and run, too. Even if there wasn’t any real danger, their sense of self-preservation doesn’t take any chances.

In the same way, however much people are told not to panic − and however real or imaginary the danger to their lives is − they often do.

Last week, the Daily Record Newspaper in Scotland carried the headline:

Reader 1: ‘Don’t fuel this petrol crisis!’

Leader: It urged people not to panic buy. However, it didn’t really help − because − like the herd of deer, some people panicked, particularly in Scotland, which was the most affected − and the panic spread. People bought more petrol than usual to make sure that they would have enough − sometimes filling up their tanks ‘just in case’ they couldn’t get petrol later − and sometimes queuing for hours just to do this. People who might not normally panic saw the queues and realised that, if they didn’t queue up too, there might be no petrol left for them − and so the petrol pumps ran dry − even though, if they had they all bought their usual amount of petrol, there would probably have been enough to last for everyone until the crisis was over.


Panic is, in lots of ways, a very useful − and sometimes vital − reaction. Many of you may have been in situations where you’ve been in real danger. Everyone, for instance, can imagine this scenario − a vehicle suddenly coming towards you, out of control. The panic you would feel − and the burst of adrenalin that comes with it − makes you react to save yourself. So the panic reaction is an important one. We sometimes have our own personal ‘panics’.

Reader 1: I’m going to be late!
Reader 2: I know I’m going to fail all my exams.
Reader 3: I’m going to look stupid!
Reader 4: I can’t do it!

Leader: As humans, rather than animals, in cases where there isn’t an immediate danger to life − and even in the recent fuel ‘crisis’, there are several things to consider. Panicking over personal insecurities is similar in that reacting too quickly can help spread unnecessary panic and make things worse. Panic can be a reaction to what ‘might’ happen − rather than to a situation where there’s obvious immediate danger.

It’s important to think of the needs of everyone in a crisis − not just our own. We live in a society where our own behaviour potentially affects everyone else − and vice versa. Nowadays, people talk about the ‘global village’. Increasingly it seems that we live in a world where things we do potentially affect everyone in the world. In the case of the petrol crisis, the wider picture is that everyone is likely to be affected by unnecessary panic.

So it’s important to assess the amount of real danger in any situation. Is there really a need for panic? A cool head − and an ability to ‘take a step back’ − is important at times of crisis in order to look clearly at the situation and consider the best course of action. What, for instance, are we being told by the people who know all the facts? People were warned not to panic and that, if everyone bought more petrol than they usually do, they would make the situation worse − but this is what happened.

Listen to the following quote from Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, ‘If’:

Reader 1: ‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
Reader 2: If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you – but make allowance for their doubting, too…
Reader 3: If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same…
Reader 4: Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it’

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2008

About the author: Jaki Miles-Windmill