Whenever a natural disaster hits the survivors can usually be divided into two groups: Those who prepared ahead of time, and those that didn’t. The people who don’t prepare usually operate under the mindset that everything is going to be fine, and nothing bad is really going to happen. They underestimate the effect of natural disasters no matter how many warnings are flashed before their eyes. This denial of the possible danger during a disaster is known as Normalcy Bias.
What is Normalcy Bias
Normalcy Bias is defined as follows:
Normalcy bias is a psychological state of denial people enter in the event of a disaster, as a result of which they underestimate the possibility of the disaster actually happening, and its effects on their life and property. Their denial is based on the assumption that if the disaster has not occurred until now, it will never occur.
The reason that Normalcy Bias is so dangerous in the middle of a disaster is that the people who want to deny the event will look to the people who have prepared for the event for help. All of their denial means that they don’t have supplies ready for emergency situations, and that’s when desperation sinks in.
Normalcy Bias is a state of mind that develops before the disaster even starts, and it becomes exacerbated once the disaster event hits. Let’s examine the dangers of Normalcy Bias leading up to a disaster and why it’s such a huge threat once a disaster hits.
“It’s Never Going To Happen Here”
Disasters can happen anywhere, at any time. From terror attacks to weather events, disasters happen every day all around the world. While it’s impossible to predict when they will all happen, there are some very predictable aspects of natural disasters that can inform how you prepare.
Certain parts of the United States are known for weather events that occur every year on a seasonal basis. There’s Tornado Alley, or flooding in the Midwest, and every year there is at least one major hurricane that hits the East Coast. There are also Nor’Easters and superstorms that hit every now and again, and let’s not forget the recent spate of polar vortex weather patterns that drop record-setting low temperatures and historic amounts of snow across the Northeast.
On the West Coast there are the inevitable droughts and fires that take place regularly. Fires are a very regular occurrence these days, and the fiery infernos lead to mudslides when the heat gives way to the region’s rainy season.
The West Coast is also known for earthquakes. Though they’re not a regular occurrence, California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska are all sitting on the Ring of Fire, which means that earthquakes (and possible tsunamis) are always a possibility even though they don’t happen often. In fact, many experts claim that California’s storied San Andreas Fault is “due” for the next “Big One.”
With all of this in mind, it would be hard to believe that there are people in these areas who don’t have an emergency plan in case something happens. Earthquakes aside, everything else happens on a season basis. From fires to mudslides, tornados and hurricanes to polar vortices, and large amounts of rainfall that leads to flooding. These things happen all the time, so wouldn’t it make sense to be ready?
Anyone who lives in one of the areas affected, which is just about everyone, should have some kind of plan. Yet, despite all of the evidence and the seasonal nature of these weather events, many people aren’t prepared for impending disasters.
“I Had No Idea This Could Happen”
The fact that 41% of people polled admit not being ready for a disaster is the first red flag of the dangers of Normalcy Bias. These people know that disasters, especially natural disasters, are imminent. They can happen at any time, and yet they aren’t prepared.
In many cases, these people don’t actually believe something is going to happen. No matter how many times you tell someone living along the Atlantic coast that hurricanes will happen, they will still deny that they will be impacted. What’s more is that many of these people become the ones who think they can ride out a hurricane. They’re the ones that ignore evacuation warnings because “it’s not going to be that bad” so they stay in their homes during floods, and when the waters pass their ceilings they’re on their roofs with signs asking for a rescue.
People suffering from cases of Normalcy Bias are the ones who look around in the middle of a disaster and claim that they had no idea something could happen, no matter how much evidence was there beforehand.
Sadly, while these people are lamenting their situation, they’re not making any progress fixing their situations. While they sit around in disbelief that things have fallen apart, they’re also looking to see who is going to help them.
“Why Isn’t Someone Helping Us?”
The challenge for people who suffer from Normalcy Bias is that they’re the ones caught unprepared in the middle of a disaster. Rather than prepare, they prefer thinking that it won’t be that bad and nothing will happen to them, and as soon as things take a turn for the worst, they learn how wrong they are they start pointing fingers.
A classic example of this is when people who ride out hurricanes discover that there is no food or emergency services available during the storm and in the immediate aftermath. Their first inclination is to ask why no one is helping them. They could have evacuated; they could have packed supplies, and when everything falls apart they wonder why someone else isn’t helping them.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it puts first responders in unnecessary jeopardy when they have to perform dangerous rescues. If these same people put a little bit of effort into being prepared, and listening to evacuation orders, things would be much different.
While zombie apocalypse scenarios are fictional situations, consider what usually happens following a virus breakout. Unlike a natural disaster, where emergency personnel will pour in to save the day when it’s safe to do so, a zombie apocalypse will keep going. Most depictions show a complete collapse of the government, so anyone waiting around for the government or the military to swoop in and save the day will probably be eaten before accepting that help isn’t coming.
However, first responders aren’t the only ones whose safety is at risk from people who are blinded by Normalcy Bias during a disaster. As it happens, you’re at risk more than anyone else.
Why Normalcy Bias Is A Threat To Your Survival
A common theme in disaster movies, whether it’s a natural disaster or a zombie apocalypse, is that people tend to fall into two categories: Those that are ready, and those that aren’t. Now, if you get caught in the middle of a wildfire on public transportation, no one is going to fault you for not having your emergency kit ready. But generally speaking, there are people who plan and those who don’t.
If a massive earthquake struck, it could be days before help arrives. That means that people will have to rely upon the supplies they have on hand. The people who don’t have food and water will have to search for it, and if supplies are limited, there could be rioting.
Anyone who sees that you have supplies will want them. It’s possible that they will ask nicely for you to share your food and water, but it’s more likely that they will implore you to share while claiming (erroneously) that you have some moral obligation to share your supplies.
This presents a major challenge because of course, you want to help people, but you also have to consider your family’s needs before anyone else’s, and their lack of planning is not your problem. Should you refuse to share, it could lead to more than bruised feelings. The other people could resort to violence if the situation is desperate enough, and should they manage to steal your supplies it will leave you without.
In the end, the only way to truly protect yourself from people dealing with Normalcy Bias in the middle of a disaster is to be prepared for anything, and to be prepared to defend yourself (including – and especially – your supplies) when bad things happen. All you can do is to provide for your own needs and make sure that you don’t share anything unless you’re willing to accept that one handout could turn into many handouts.
When Normalcy Bias turns into entitlement, and the belief that relief is “owed” to people who didn’t bother to prepare, you’ll find that desperation will quickly escalate to make a bad situation even worse.
The only way to truly combat Normalcy Bias during a disaster is to try to talk sense into people you know before the disaster strikes. If you demonstrate the need to be prepared, you just might inspire someone to pack a few supplies away just in case. If someone is your family suffers from this condition, here are some tips for talking to them about preparedness.