Why Don’t People Prepare For Natural Disasters?

If you live in a part of the country known for a certain type of natural disaster, like hurricanes or earthquakes, it stands to reason that you would make preparations for it. Things like having an emergency plan, reinforcing your home and making sure you have adequate insurance for the event.

Yet, time after time, we see news stories of people who were caught unawares by the approach of a natural disaster. These events range in scope from scrambling to get provisions at the last minute and emptying the shelves of grocery and hardware stores, to tragically losing a home and other possessions in a total disaster.

So, if people live in zones where they know there is a reasonable probability of a natural diaster, what would cause them to ignore preparations for that disaster until it’s too late?

A new book written by two directors from The Wharton School’s risk management division sheds some major light on the psychological processes that drive underpreparedness scenarios. Called “The Ostrich Paradox“, it examines in detail how disaster planning goes wrong — and how to do it the right way.

The authors identify six specific biases that cause people to not properly prepare for natural disasters:

  • Inertia: The ongoing feeling that you don’t need to protect yourself just quite yet.
  • Myopia: The irrational feeling that since things are fine now and have been fine for as long as you’ve been in the area, they’ll continue to always be fine.
  • Herding: Looking to others to tell you what to do to prepare for a disaster, and not doing it if you do not see an authority telling you to.
  • Optimism: While this is normally a positive trait, in the event of a disaster it can make you downplay the risks and thus fail to take adequate measures to protect yourself.
  • Amnesia: No matter how badly natural disasters damage an area, people are quick to forget these events and the lessons that should have been learned from them.
  • Simplification: A lack of awareness of the full extent of damage that a natural disaster can cause, and the scenarios that a family will be in if they’re caught in one (i.e. how they are going to get out of the area if the roads are shut down).

It’s tough to identify and admit to mental bias, but it’s very important to try to do so for the sake of protecting your property and family. The authors of the book advise people to draw up firm rules about how to handle a disaster long before there is any risk, keeping in mind that any or all of these biases could be influencing you once the first warnings of the disaster come in. Keep the rules in writing so there’s no confusion, and commit to following them to the letter. It’s also always a good idea to review your insurance policies and verify that you are adequately covered for the type of disasters that are common in your area, especially if you’ve done renovations or additions to your home recently.

So You’ve Just Witnessed A Car Accident … What Do You Do Now?

At some point in your life, you’ve probably been given the basic rundown of what to do if you’re involved in a car accident. You’re not always told what you should do if you’re a witness to someone else’s accident, however.

Witnesses to car accidents play a very important role. They’re often the first people able to respond if the parties in the car accident are injured and unable to call for help themselves. Both law enforcement and insurance companies also rely to a great deal on what witnesses report to determine what action they should take after an accident.

If you’re not directly involved in a car accident, you’re under no legal obligation to stop or to act as a witness. You can think of it as a civic duty or “good samaritan” deed, however. Someday, you might be involved in a similar accident, and would hope that the people around you would help you to get assistance and provide testimony so that your insurance company paid you fairly.

Keep the following in mind if you happen to witness an auto accident:

  • Safety First
    Take care of your personal safety first, and avoid contributing to the crash or creating a new hazard in the road. Stay at a safe distance until you are sure it is safe to approach. If you are going to check to see if someone needs medical attention, first find a safe place to park, and be sure to turn your hazard lights on before exiting the vehicle. Also be wary of environmental hazards as you approach, like shattered glass from windshields and downed power lines if someone hit a pole or tree.
  • Check On The Victims And Call For Help
    Unless you know CPR or have medical training, it’s best not to attempt to intervene with anyone who is injured. Instead, call 911 for an ambulance and describe the condition of the victims, and if they are conscious reassure them that medical help is en route. Simply being present and speaking to them calmly can help by lowering their stress levels.
  • Aid In Securing The Scene
    If you have road flares, or something like an emergency cone on hand, it is OK to deploy these in the road to alert oncoming traffic of the accident. Just be sure to check for liquids in the area before using a road flare or anything that involves a lighter. If you aren’t absolutely certain the liquid is water, refrain from lighting anything as it may be flammable.
  • Take Photos
    If the victims are unable to photograph the scene, you might consider doing it for them once they are stabilized and the area is secured. Photos taken immediately in the wake of the accident can be very helpful during insurance claims investigations.
  • Wait For The Police And Medical Personnel
    If an ambulance was called, most likely that will arrive first. Even if the police take longer to show up, however, it’s helpful to wait for them and add your eyewitness testimony to their report. If you don’t mind being called by an insurance investigator later, you can also offer your contact information to the parties involved.