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MartinFocazio Offline


Registered: 01/21/03
Posts: 2148
Loc: Bucks County PA
This is a link to a PDF document from a larger piece but it's well worth reading by itself.

The book it came from is here: http://fireservicebooks.com/osb/itemdetails.cfm?ID=2712

and the chapter cited below is
Myths, Exaggerations, and Realities


Quick Excerpt:

In order to respond to a disaster effectively, it is imperative that you understand
people’s misperceptions about human behavior. Much of this comes from Hollywood films and the mass media. Unfortunately the information presented in movies and by reporters focuses on sensational and unusual stories. For this reason, it is vital that you are aware of the research findings about human behavior in disasters. At the same time, you must also recognize that there is some degree of truth in the public’s perception of post-disaster behavior. One way to ensure successful response and recovery operations is to understand exactly how people behave after disasters.

3.1 The Impact of Hollywood and the Media
Most people get their views about human disaster behavior from films and the
media (Fischer 1998). Movies are entertaining, of course, and media reports can
keep one riveted to a disaster as it unfolds. Unfortunately, such views are almost always inaccurate. Scholars have labeled these inaccuracies as “myths.” A myth is defined in many dictionaries as a false belief. It is difficult to counter such incorrect portrayals about disaster behavior that are quickly spread through modern video footage.

3.1.1 Hollywood
Hollywood is one of the major contributors to the public’s perceptions about disasters. There are several movies that portray people’s behavior in a negative and fictitious light.
Dante’s Peak is a good example. This movie relays the story about a volcanic
eruption in the Northwestern United States. After several deaths result from the
emission of dangerous gasses from the volcano, community leaders hold a meeting to calm the public. During this gathering, an earthquake occurs and people panic as a result. They run haphazardly out of the building and begin to evacuate in droves as the volcano explodes from the mountain above them. Cars and trucks run into each other as their occupants drive frantically to escape the oozing lava and falling ash. Roads become clogged, and people do all they can to protect themselves while ignoring the needs of others. The movie suggests that when disaster strikes, people behave erratically.
Volcano is another disaster movie. It provides an amusing, but not completely
accurate, view of human behavior in extreme events. After workers die in an
underground utility tunnel in Los Angeles, a scientist named Dr. Amy Barnes
discovers a growing volcanic threat. While investigating the source of deadly
gasses below ground, the volcano becomes active. Dr. Barnes climbs out of the
hole to save her life. When she arrives on the surface, she takes off her breathing apparatus and sets it down nearby. As she turns around, a bystander grabs her mask and runs off with it. This film gives the impression that theft and looting are common in disasters.
The movie Asteroid also provides an interesting portrayal of disasters. Upon
learning that an asteroid is about to hit the United States, the government begins a massive evacuation. As people leave the target area, one person becomes irate because of the government’s decisions and shoots a FEMA official at an airport hangar. This movie, like many others, presents lawlessness and violence as the norm in disasters.

3.2 Research on Myths
Many sociologists have studied human behavior in disaster (see Table 3-1), and
a great deal of literature has thus been written about the topic of disaster
“myths.” As an emergency manager, you should be familiar with this literature.
Much of this research is dated, but prior studies reveal “most persons held preconceived notions about disaster behavior that were essentially untrue.” (Quarantelli and Dynes 1972, p. 67). In other words, “many common beliefs and
perceptions about disaster response and post-impact behavior are not empirically valid” (Wenger, Dykes, and Sebok 1975, p. 33). Recent research continues to reiterate previous findings (Tierney, Lindell, and Perry 2001). New
investigations are being undertaken after Hurricane Katrina and should be out

One of the most widely held myths according to the literature is that people act irrationally in disaster situations. It is believed that people always panic.
Panic is people’s inability to think clearly or their tendency to run frantically
from buildings or the disaster scene. Another related belief is masses of people
evacuating at once.

It is true that many people will leave the scene of a disaster. This need not
result in panic, however. Research suggests that....

(Continues in the book.)

#241305 - 02/16/12 07:12 PM Re: MUST READ: ANTICIPATING HUMAN BEHAVIOR... [Re: MartinFocazio]
Russ Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 06/02/06
Posts: 4833
Available on Amazon

#241306 - 02/16/12 07:38 PM Re: MUST READ: ANTICIPATING HUMAN BEHAVIOR... [Re: Russ]
MostlyHarmless Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 06/03/09
Posts: 982
Loc: Norway
What a coincidence: I've just plowed through Amanda Ripley's book "The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why". I have just skimmed the abstract, but it seems to be conveying exactly the same message: People in general are calm and civilized in face of disaster. If anything, they are TOO calm - and will need leadership to snap out of the "denial" phase and into the "action" phase.

Mass panic does happen - but it is rare, and occurs only under a very limited set of circumstances.

Martin: I'll read this with great interest. And for anyone interested in this topic I can highly recomend Amanda Ripley's book.

#241310 - 02/16/12 08:45 PM Re: MUST READ: ANTICIPATING HUMAN BEHAVIOR... [Re: MartinFocazio]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 6435
Loc: southern Cal
Interesting and informative. I was surprised at the assertion that martial law had never been imposed in a US disaster. What about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake? The mayor of San Francisco requested military assistance from the Presidio and the soldiers were give "shoot to kill" orders in order to deal with looters. If that isn't martial law, it is close enough for government work.

That is just an academic quibble. The piece is a very useful bit of work.
Geezer in Chief

#241316 - 02/16/12 09:13 PM Re: MUST READ: ANTICIPATING HUMAN BEHAVIOR... [Re: MartinFocazio]
PSM Offline

Registered: 05/26/06
Posts: 77
Loc: Cochise Co., AZ
I hate the knee-jerk references to "Price Gouging".

I'll let a couple of economists explain why:

"Price gouging" is one of those emotionally powerful but economically meaningless expressions that most economists pay no attention to, because it seems too confused to bother with. But a distinguished economist named Joseph Schumpeter once pointed out that it is a mistake to dismiss some ideas as too silly to discuss, because that only allows fallacies to flourish -- and their consequences can be very serious.

Read more: Thomas Sowell

Whenever a major disaster strikes, the public is confronted with all sorts of unpleasantness. The source of the unpleasantness is a sudden change in scarcity conditions: The immediate demand for many goods and services exceeds their immediate supply. What to do? The typical response is for prices to rise dramatically. While buyers are not thrilled by rising prices, rising prices are one of the ameliorative responses to changes in scarcity conditions. They get people to voluntarily do what's in the social interest. Let's look at it using a couple of goods and services important to disaster recovery and ask a question or two.

Read more: Walter E. Willams

Edited by PSM (02/16/12 09:13 PM)

#241320 - 02/16/12 09:37 PM Re: MUST READ: ANTICIPATING HUMAN BEHAVIOR... [Re: MartinFocazio]
JBMat Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 03/03/09
Posts: 745
Loc: NC
My main beef is the people who sit on their ample behinds and loudly wonder where "the Government" is and "why they are taking so long" to help. This was said to me, while I was in uniform no less, passing out food and water. Said lardbutt was whining about having to walk 250m to pick up food/water. Guess he thought we were Dominoes and would deliver to his door, fresh and hot in 30 minutes after the disaster.

These are the people who need a swift kick to their hindquarters to get moving and do something for themselves.

#241322 - 02/16/12 09:48 PM Re: MUST READ: ANTICIPATING HUMAN BEHAVIOR... [Re: JBMat]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 6435
Loc: southern Cal
I would hope that you met more than a few people who appreciated your services.
Geezer in Chief

#241333 - 02/16/12 11:13 PM Re: MUST READ: ANTICIPATING HUMAN BEHAVIOR... [Re: MartinFocazio]
ILBob Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 02/05/10
Posts: 776
Loc: Northern IL
My suspicion given the target audience for the book is that it tends to seriously overstate just how well government has handled past disasters.
Warning - I am not an expert on anything having to do with this forum, but that won't stop me from saying what I think. smile


#241337 - 02/16/12 11:49 PM Re: MUST READ: ANTICIPATING HUMAN BEHAVIOR... [Re: ILBob]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 6435
Loc: southern Cal
I don't recall that the document addresses the issue of "how well government has handled past disasters" it is relating to how the affected population reacts to the situation - alleged panic, looting, etc. It does mention how individual public workers - police, fire , medics, individually respond, and it does come to a favorable conclusion, althou definitely citing adverse examples.

In that regard, I think of the motorcycle patrolman, speeding to his duty station in the predawn darkness immediately after the initial shock in the 1994 Northridge quake, found that a highway overpass had collapsed - the hard way. From what I have seen of the public service workers around here, they are pretty darn competent and go all out in emergencies.
Geezer in Chief

#241343 - 02/17/12 01:44 AM Re: MUST READ: ANTICIPATING HUMAN BEHAVIOR... [Re: MartinFocazio]
MartinFocazio Offline


Registered: 01/21/03
Posts: 2148
Loc: Bucks County PA
Martial Law was NOT declared in the 1906 Earthquake, but it basically was imposed, illegally.



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