[ExI] FW: [tt] [x-risk] The frozen calm of normalcy bias

spike spike at rainier66.com
Fri May 10 13:39:05 UTC 2013

Thanks James, this is an excellent article.  My take on it is that I have
seen it firsthand.  Understatement, I did it.  In 30 years of misspent
adulthood in California, I have experienced 5 notable earthquakes, one big
one in 1989.  In two of those I was with other people.  Both of those times,
I was surprised at how many people either did nothing or did the wrong
thing, such as sit still and make brilliant comments such as "WHAT the HELL
was THAT?!"  when it should have been obvious within a second or two it is
an EARTHQUAKE, ya silly goof, TAKE COVER, there might be more coming!

In the 89 quake, at the first jolt, I walked over from my desk and peered
out a huge picture window, a stunning example of profound stupidity.

Another take on it: in our current world we are so accustomed to being
overprotected, we seldom see any emergency, and even if we do, it is
someone's job to handle it.  We have all these firemen and EMTs and
everything, our minds just immediately default to CALL 911 at the first
sight of blood.  But even then, accidents have become rare.  Everyone is
carrying a phone now, so we seldom come upon a fire or an accident where
someone isn't already there taking care of it and doing it right, as opposed
to you and me, who would do something wrong and get sued.  

Evidence:  think right now back to the last time you were there at any
emergency, such as any person needing an ambulance, a fire, an injury
accident, where you were there before the public emergency professionals,
and you needed to take some kind of action, anything?  Examples would be
getting your own fire extinguisher out of the trunk and using it, giving
CPR, pulling anyone out of a wrecked vehicle, stopping any crime with your
own firearm, take any action to deal with any kind of emergency other than
just call for help on the phone.  Emergencies have become extremely rare.
This is good, but we are growing helpless as kittens.

Check out the article:

From: tt-bounces at postbiota.org [mailto:tt-bounces at postbiota.org] On Behalf
Of Hughes, James J.


The frozen calm of normalcy bias

When disaster strikes, some people lose their heads, some people become cool
and effective, but by far most people act as if they've suddenly forgotten
the disaster. They behave in surprisingly mundane ways, right up until it's
too late. Around the world, researchers are wondering how to combat normalcy

If you spend the beginning of your flights staring in disbelief at the cabin
crew gesturing towards the emergency exits and asking you to look at them
and think about walking to them in an emergency, you may be surprised that
doing exactly that has saved one person. When two planes collided just above
a runway in Tenerife in 1977, a man was stuck, with his wife, in a plane
that was slowly being engulfed in flames. He remembered making a special
note of the exits, grabbed his wife's hand, and ran towards one of them. As
it happened, he didn't need to use it, since a portion of the plane had been
sheared away. He jumped out, along with his wife and the few people who
survived. Many more people should have made it out. Fleeing survivors ran
past living, uninjured people who sat in seats literally watching for the
minute it took for the flames to reach them.

This isn't unique behavior, although plane crashes provide the most dramatic
examples. People seeking shelter during tornadoes and cyclones are often
called back, or delayed, by people doing normal activities, who refuse to
believe the emergency is happening. These people are displaying what's known
as normalcy bias. About 70% of people in a disaster do it. Although movies
show crowds screaming and panicking, most people move dazedly through normal
activities in a crisis. This can be a good thing; researchers find that
people who are in this state are docile and can be directed without chaos.
They even tend to quiet and calm the 10-15% of people who freak out.

The downside of the bias is the fact that they tend to retard the progress
of the 10-15% of people who act appropriately. The main source of delay
masquerades as the need to get more data. Scientists call this "milling."
People will usually get about four opinions on what's going on and what they
should do before taking any action - even in an obvious crisis. People in
emergency situations report calling out to others, asking, "What's going
on?" When someone tells them to evacuate, or to take shelter, they fail to
comply and move on, asking other people the same question.

This isn't entirely loopy behavior. If something minor seems wrong, in your
neighborhood, office, or home, it's hardly inappropriate to ask the people
around what's happening. And how many of us have heard a suspicious noise
nearby, paused for a moment, and then thought, "I'm sure it's nothing," and
gone back to what we were doing? The problem comes when, even when it is
obviously something, people stay in denial.

There are a lot of theories for why this occurs. There's the shock itself,
and the time it takes to process it. Even people who are well-trained and
well-informed lose some of their knowledge and physical acumen under extreme
pressure. Some researchers blame instincts. Animals that don't struggle
during an attack by an overwhelmingly large predator are sometimes left
alone. The passivity indicates sickness or poison, and puts off the
predator. Faced with a threat that's overwhelmingly enormous, people may
instinctively become passive as well.

Other researchers believe those with normalcy bias are playing the odds.
People step onto dangerous-looking roller coasters every day and scare
themselves half to death, trusting that, no, the situation their instincts
are screaming about couldn't possibly really be happening. Rounding out the
theories about normalcy bias is the idea that people need information in
order to act. If people don't know how to deal with a situation, they can't
begin to deal with it, so they don't begin to deal with it.

Nothing can be done about sudden shocks and natural instincts, so most
researchers try to deal in increased information. This is why we're given
countless safety lectures. Look at the exits and plan your exit route. In
the event of an earthquake, a fire, a flood, do this. Drills and practices,
even if only done in a person't imagination, at least give them the basic
tools that they need when dealing with an emergency.

More complicated, from a policy standpoint, is the need to personalize the
risk. This information - that the present disaster will harm you, yes you,
so take action - is the hardest to accurately disseminate. People mill,
asking for opinions, because they want to be told that everything is fine.
They will keep asking, and delaying, until they get the answer they want. In
a completely alien emergency situation - such as a downed, flaming plane -
people think of the likelihood that they're mistaken about the nature of the
emergency, and the consequences for screwing up if they take personal
action. Although early warning systems, alarms, and alerts proliferate, very
few things manage to get through to specific people that they are in
personal danger, that they are on their own, and that they need to take
steps to save themselves.

Via Geojournal, American Journal of Community Psychology, Natural Risk and
Civil Protection, Time.
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