History has pointed out time and time again that when our society fails to plan and prepare for emergencies, there are breakdowns that lead to devastation. Often times, the normalcy bias is the culprit.
Change is often an unwelcome concept in our lives. As humans, we are creatures of habit and have a tendency to gravitate to the norm, to our daily routines, and to our regular habits. Anything out of the ordinary that throws us out of our routine can often be difficult to deal with.
There are four phases to a disaster: the warning, the event itself, the breakdown, and the recovery phase. During this time, disaster victims will go through a period of shock and may have difficulty in processing what has occurred. This is also what many refer to as the normalcy bias, and is actually a coping mechanism to help us process and deal with the changes that have occurred. Many will cling to any normal thought and habit until their brain begins to accept the changes it has witnessed. There have been people who will feel compelled to constantly clean, or perhaps those who will choose not to admit the disaster has even occurred.
Normalcy Bias is Normal
Normalcy bias is actually a coping mechanism that occurs when we are trying to register and sort out a traumatic event or impending disaster. Because many fear change, we have a tendency to resist it and in turn, our brains try to simulate a normal environment. This resistance to change is quite common and can occur even during the first phase of when a disaster is threatening the area. In fact, each of us has entertained the normalcy bias at one point or another.
Although this is a normal response, there are dangers that stem from this bias. What makes this coping mechanism so dangerous though is that it causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and its effects. No doubt that many of you have witnessed this when trying to discuss your disaster preparation plans with friends and family – they either just don’t “get it”, or don’t want to “get it”. This nonchalance reminds me of a popular saying we have all grown up around – “ignorance is bliss.” Many of us live under this veil of ignorance so they don’t have to deal with the realities involved in disaster preparation.
Here are three ways that the normalcy bias can hinder one’s preparedness efforts:
- Taking a disaster lightly. Some people are not aware of the vast types of natural disasters that could hit the area they live in. Therefore, they just don’t see a need to prepare for them. On the other hand, they may not want to understand the ramifications of the disaster because it is too intense or will cause too much emotional strain. In National Geographic’s popular television series, “American Blackout,” a majority of the disaster victims didn’t realize how far-reaching a cyber-attack could be on their way of life and they suffered as a result. This lack in educating themselves let to their demise.
- Not properly or adequately preparing for the disaster. The idea of making lists, buying supplies, and worrying can be intimidating at best, and also bring on unwanted stress. Not only are they underestimating the possibility of a disaster, but the side effects as well. They may believe that the government and disaster organizations will save the day, so there is no need to fully prepare.
- It hasn’t happened yet, so why prepare for it? The assumption that is made in the case of the normalcy bias is that since a disaster has not occurred then it never will occur. It also results in the inability of people to cope with a disaster once it occurs because they still haven’t accepted that it occurred. People with a normalcy bias have difficulties reacting to something they have not experienced before. People also tend to interpret warnings in the most optimistic way possible, seizing on any ambiguities to infer a less serious situation.
Resistance is Futile
Change is the one true constant in the universe, and yet it is also the one we resist the most. We must take steps to overcome this bias and begin training our minds to react in a timely manner. Emergency response teams regularly simulate disasters so that they can react more efficiently when a disaster does occur. If we are unable to visualize what is upon the horizon and fail to adequately prepare for it, then when the event occurs, we will not be ready for it and our chances of surviving it diminishes.
We have seen that as this bias takes hold and makes its way across the nation, the less likely certain groups in the population will prepare. In fact, they will mock you for your decision to make preparations. Haven’t we all heard, “You’re paranoid!”, “Nothing happened in the 1950’s bomb shelter era and nothing is going to happen now.”, “Stop worrying – the government will take care of us.”, “You’re obsessing over this and we’re worried about you.” It doesn’t matter which disaster you bring up to support your preparedness cause: September 11th attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Joplin tornado, the ever-looming economic depression, the general consensus is that they would rather “not go there” and stay positive about their outcome. This is the normalcy bias in full effect and will hinder their chances of survival.
How to Keep Normalcy Bias at Bay
The brain is the strongest muscle in the body and we have to regularly train it to perform the way we need it to. The power to survive stems from the mental preparedness we have trained ourselves for.
- Make the unknown familiar – Using visualization techniques and educating yourself on past events and how victims survived will help condition your mind to think in terms of contingencies and plan for action.
- Create a trigger – This is the single most important thing that will make you want to live and survive.
- Situational awareness – When you are aware of what is going on in your environment, you can react more quickly to what is occurring.
Breaking up the enormity of preparedness into smaller compartmentalized sections will help you concentrate on one task at a time until the end result is met.
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Follow the 5 P’s of Preparedness with any disaster you are planning for:
- Peace of mind.
History has pointed out time and time again that when our society fails to plan and prepare for emergencies, there are breakdowns that lead to devastation. All one needs to do is open a history book to see the pages and pages of disasters that occurred and the estimated amounts of victims live the disaster took. If you are reading this article, then you have an interest in preparing for some sort of disaster. Whether it is for natural disasters that pose short or long term after effects, or to prepare your family for a personal disaster such as job loss or economic hardships you understand that some sort of preparation is involved. Taking steps to create a preparedness-based foundation will get you in the mindset of what to expect when a disaster occurs. Further, it will help you research and understand the magnitude of disaster events.
Emergencies typically occur with little or no warning. As a result, many are caught off guard and are ill-equipped to handle such a sudden crisis. Preparing ahead of time seems like the only logical way to handle this issue. However, the fact remains that a majority of our neighbors and fellow citizens are not prepared. One of the common reasons why people do not prepare is because of the overwhelming nature of it all.
Breaking up the enormity of preparedness into smaller compartmentalized sections will help you concentrate on one task at a time until the end result is met. Follow the 5 P’s with any disaster you are planning for:
Decide what types of disasters you are planning for (weather-related, natural disasters, economic or personal disasters), and prioritize what your emergency plans will be by which emergencies are most likely to occur in your area. Also, do not limit your emergency preparedness organization to natural or economic disasters. Go a step further and plan for personal disasters that also tend to occur without warning (unemployment, divorce, death in the family).
Creating a “list of lists” will ensure that your basic needs are accounted for.
Planning is the key to survival. Having a plan in place to help determine what steps need to be taken by you and your family members when an emergency arise will ensure that all preparedness needs are covered.
Also, having a guide to assist during the initial disaster preparation will help in determining what steps need to be taken by you and your family members when an emergency does arise. When planning for a disaster follow these protocols:
- Have a plan in place (choosing the location, let family members know where your destination is, the contact information, a secondary destination, etc.).
- Decide on the duration of the disaster you are planning for (3-day, 2 weeks, short-term or longer-term disasters).
- Create a financial plan on how much money you can contribute to your preparedness budget.
- Keep the basic needs in mind: food, water, shelter, clothing, safety, and communication.
- Try and find items that are lightweight, functional and versatile so that if you have to carry them for long periods it will not be a strain.
- Also, ensure that you have contingency plans put in place in case your first plan does not work out.
- In addition, plan for the worst-case scenario and have emergency I.D. cards made for each family member (including your pets) with current information provided.
Remember to prepare for disasters in a way that is financially responsible. Over time, by accumulating a few preparedness supplies each month will create a preparedness foundation that you can fall back on. Remember to fall back on your list of lists to ensure that you are purchasing the needed items for the disaster you are preparing for. Have a well rounded short-term supply to compliment your long term food items. Store your emergency supplies in an easy to access part of your home where natural elements such as sunlight and moisture are not an issue.
The best way to be better prepared for emergencies is through knowledge and practice. Read, watch, and walk through any information on disaster preparedness you can get your hands on. We have all heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect.” This is no different, in the case of preparedness. Consistent practice will turn your life-saving plans into muscle memory. This rehearse-to-be-ready concept is how many emergency personnel and even athletes train to condition their mind and body. However, being prepared is not only having supplies, but it is also having a skill set to fall back on if need be. Continue practicing your new learned skills and avoid making mistakes made by preppers.
Peace of Mind
The end result of the aforementioned is simply peace of mind. Knowing which disasters may affect your family and having the necessary supplies in place to handle these disruptions in our daily lives will ensure that all of your preparedness concerns are covered. Taking that extra time to prepare can make all the difference if an unexpected disaster occurs.
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Comment on “The Dangers of The Normalcy Bias: Follow the 5 P’s of Preparedness with any disaster you are planning for: Prioritize. Plan. Prepare. Practice. Peace of mind”
Good column. But over time I realize everything has an expiration date. When you buy supplies (especially food) you have to replace them so mark it in your calendar when to get rid of them and resupply, preferably slowly so as not to cause sudden disruption financially and preparation wise.
The non-edible items must be constantly inspected to see they are in good shape and still usable.
Think of it has a car. Things must be maintained, fixed, inspected or replaced on an ongoing basis.