Will Everyone Panic During a Disaster? Preparedness Myth Busting Part – Redfora
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Will Everyone Panic During a Disaster? Preparedness Myth Busting Part 1

JUN 11, 2021

Guest Blog by Deb Moller

Disaster myths can sidetrack you from getting ready. Please don’t let these myths get in the way of your preparedness!

1.) Most people will panic in a disaster and act hysterically.

In a situation where people are trapped and there is an immediate danger, such as a fire, people do try to get away as fast as they can. That can look like panic. In a large crowd, it can result in injuries or death.

But in most disasters, people behave far more calmly than nearly anyone expects. There isn’t a lot of screaming or shouting, crying or anger. In fact, after a disaster many people are struck by how quietly people did what they needed to do. Panic is not a typical reaction in a disaster.

2.) First responders will be able to rescue many victims of a disaster.

The overwhelming majority of victims of large natural disasters are rescued by those who happen to be nearby when the disaster hits. This phenomenon of “bystander rescue” is a predictable pattern.

While bystander rescues save many lives, they also can lead to injuries and even deaths as ordinary people attempt to dig survivors from unstable earthquake rubble or grab people out of strong flood waters. First responders, who know the dangers, are understandably anxious to get people to enroll in Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. More CERT members help ensure that bystander rescuers don’t end up as victims themselves.

3.) If there aren’t enough police, and people don’t have what they need to survive, violent gangs will form to forcibly take away supplies from anyone who has them.

I blame disaster movies for this myth. Disaster research shows that people overwhelmingly help each other and share resources after a disaster. Crime goes down in the immediate aftermath of the event, though does go back up later. The kind of apocalyptic scenario common in movies, portraying violent chaos and every person for themselves, bears no relationship to what the research shows. Yet people still believe it, and worry about defending themselves more than about getting prepared, which would be a better thing to focus on.

But wait, you might say, I remember the news reports after Hurricane Katrina. It was like a disaster movie! The reality is that many of the most horrific early reports were wrong, and this was methodically shown by disaster research conducted after the event. It pays to recall that early media reports are often inaccurate, since they frequently capture fears and assumptions about what is happening rather than ground truth of the actual situation.