Disaster Psychology: Part 2 – Behavior-Based Disaster Planning
In last week’s safety tip, we introduced the topic of disaster psychology and made the point that research in human responses to disasters and emergency scenarios suggests that the concept of anti-social, irrational panic behavior that people believe is rampant is actually rare. People do not really panic in disasters and emergencies. It is possible, as we discussed, but it’s not common.
So if people aren’t panicking, what are they doing?
Well, we should preface this discussion by saying that human behavior is never so simple as to allow us to completely describe it in a blog post. But, to oversimplify things a bit, people typically respond in pro-social and rational ways following disasters and emergencies. Think back to coverage of most disasters or wide-spread emergencies such as the flooding following Hurricane Florence, and you’ll often see many examples of this – people helping other people. Sure, you’ll also see examples that seem irrational or anti-social, but these are often the exceptions (which is why they are being reported, because they are exceptional) or they are being misunderstood; fear responses and running from disasters are often the rational behavior given the situation. We should define rational behavior using the information the person had at the time of the incident, not what we have in hindsight.
Pro-social and rational behavior is not without challenges. For example, a part of disaster and emergency response that people often take for granted is determining if there really is a threat, known as the “risk identification” phase. Although safety professionals and emergency planners try to drill into people that whenever you hear an alarm such as a fire alarm it means that action, such as immediate evacuation, is necessary. People often spend the first few seconds or minutes following an alarm looking for confirmation, particularly by consulting those nearby or with loved ones, before acting (think about the last time you were in a building where the alarm went off as an example of this). The fact is we’ve heard too many false-alarms to take things seriously.
There are many more subtle but important points about human behavior in emergencies. For more information we encourage you to read a great book on the topic, called The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley.
Three areas in particular deserve consideration as we incorporate human behavior into our disaster and emergency planning:
Emergency System Design– The most important element of disaster planning is to identify what behavior you want out of people, and then figure out how to make it easy for people to do what you want them to do and hard for them to do what you don’t want to do. For example, in a fire scenario we want people to first move toward the exit, sound the alarm, and then use a fire extinguisher if the situation calls for it and they are properly trained. If that’s the case, why would you not have a fire extinguisher and a fire alarm station near every exit? To put it anywhere else is making it easy for people to do what we don’t want them to do and hard to do what is right.
Look at signage. Look at procedures. Look at evacuation paths. Use a Prevention through Design Mentality. Consider all aspects of how the emergency plans should work and how you can design the work environment to make the plans work.
Training– A huge mistake people make in emergency training is assuming that telling someone something in a class will make the person do the right things in an emergency. The fact is that the brain you use in training is different than the brain you use in an emergency. This is the root of the problem people deal with when they talk about the issue with confined space rescue fatalities.
To fix this, we need to try to access the part of our brain that we are more likely to use in an emergency – the instinctual, muscle memory part. The key is to practice, practice, and practice some more! Rote tasks should not require thought. In an emergency your brain is overloaded; cognitive resources should not be wasted on simple things like trying to remember where the location of the evacuation meeting place. Make the training as realistic as possible as well. Don’t be afraid to hit emotional chords as well. People remember emotional events better than non-emotional ones.
Beware training people inadvertently by giving them the wrong message. By this we mean, always avoid conducting alarm tests without having your employees do the thing you want them to do if it was a real alarm (e.g. evacuate). If you have an alarm test and the only thing your employees do is ignore the alarm and keep working, what are you training your employees to do?
Leadership– Leaders in emergencies are not always the same leaders in non-emergency situations. Research shows that leaders in emergencies and disasters are those who are credible (i.e. look and sound like they know what they are doing) and who offer novel solutions to the problems people are facing. This means, if you want good leaders in emergencies make them look the part and train them thoroughly in problem solving so that they learn to think outside of the box, particularly in high stress situations.
Leaders must be clear communicators. A big mistake organizations and governments have done in the past is either not communicated or poorly communicated risk information to people (usually because of a misguided hope of avoiding mass panic). Make sure your leaders know how to communicate clearly in high stress scenarios.
The bottom line is that, like most other aspects of management, rather than creating a plan and hoping that our employees conform to the plan, a more successful approach would be to understand how people will behave in a disaster or emergency and make our plans conform to that behavior. When we do that we often find that rather than being the biggest problem, people are often a solution to many of our problems following a disaster or emergency.
News You Can Use
OSHA: It’s still hurricane season, and OSHA wants us to be prepared. Visit their Hurricane preparedness page here
NOAA: The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released a report that August 2018 was the 5th
warmest for the planet. Read more about it through this link
CDC: Flu season is just about here. What is the latest information? Stay up to date by reading what the CDC has to say on their Flu page, linked here.
Upcoming Speaking Engagements You Can Attend
For those of you in the Colorado Springs, CO area, Ron will be speaking this week at the Safety Conference put on by ASSP: September 26. 9 AM “Searching for Safety – Supporting Sources of Resilience in Your Organization.” You can register through this link
Those of us in the Sacramento, CA area will want to attend the ASSE’s Safety Conference on October 3rd
, where Ron will be speaking on “A Day Like Any Other:Refocusing Safety on Everyday Work” at 3 PM. You can register through this link
Ron will be in Southern California, in Carson, at the Joint Technical Symposium (AIHA and ASSP) on October 17, where he provides the 8 AM Keynote presentation on “Safety Differently.” If you have not registered, you can do so thought this link.
NSC Congress: Ron and Paul are presenting “Beyond Root Cause – A New View of Accident Investigations” at the National Safety Council’s Congress in Houston on October 22nd
at 2:30 PM. Plan on attending Session 39. Registration can be made though this link.
For those of you planning on attending the Utility Safety Conference in Orlando, FL on November 7, Paul and Ron will be presenting “A Day Like Any Other: Refocusing Safety on Everyday Work” at 9:45 AM. Click on this link
SCM Training Center Calendar
October 5: 8 hour
December 7: 8 hour
Dec 10 – 12 24 hour
Dec 10 – 14 40 hour
Dec 13 – 14 16 hour
OSHA 10 Hour
October 11 & 12
OSHA 10 Hour
October 18 & 19
Do you handle hazardous waste? Then you need this class!
8 AM to 5 PM
8 AM to 3 PM
You can register online through the links provided, or call our office at 925-362-2265.
Monthly Quiz: Disasters
In light of two part series, and because of the recent natural disasters affecting much of the US, we thought we would focus on disaster preparations and actions in this month’s quiz. Answers will be published to the left.
1. Many of our friends and family have been affected by Hurricane Florence and the resulting floods in the Carolinas. We know that flooding is a serious emergency event. Which of the following statements is not true about preparing for a flood emergency?
A. Fill your bathtub with water to ensure you have plenty drinking and cooking water during and after a flood.
B. Dispose of any food products that may have come into contact with flood water.
C. It is not safe to drive in as little as six inches of rushing water.
D. Do not use any electrical appliances that might have come into contact with water.
2. Tornadoes are natural disasters that can be quite threatening. What are signs of an impending tornado?
A. Dark and/or green skies.
B. A large, dark, low-lying cloud.
C. Large hail.
D. A loud roar, sounding something like a freight train.
E. All of the above.
3. Earthquakes are disasters that have little or no warning signs. What should you do when the ground starts shaking?
A. Brace yourself in a doorway.
B. If you are inside, run outside, away from falling objects.
C. Cover your head and face, crouching under a desk or table, facing away from windows.
D. If you are driving, pull over and stop until the quake is over if it is safe to do so.
E. All of the above.
F. Only C and D are correct.
4. Fires are dangerous. Fire extinguishers are common tools to use should a fire occur. Many of us have fire extinguishers at home as well as in our work place. Where is the safest place to put a fire extinguisher in your home?
A. In the kitchen.
B. In the hall between the kitchen and the family room.
C. In the corner of the garage behind the gardening tools.
D. By a door where you will have a clear exit way.
5. Unfortunately, not all disasters occur naturally. Some, like active-shooter situations are caused by humans. What can you do should someone enter your workplace intending to harm others?
A. If you can, run away.
B. If you can’t run away, hide in a secure location, locking any door and silencing your cell phone.
C. As a last resort, fight. Be as aggressive as you can, using chairs, fire extinguishers, even jackets at the intruder.
D. If you are in hiding, text or use social media to alert others about what is happening and where you are hiding.
E. All of the above.
Answers to the Quiz:
1. It is a myth that you should fill your bathtub with water during an emergency. There is a potential for the water to be contaminated by the lead lining in many bath tubs. The answer is A.
2. Signs of impending tornadoes are dark or green skies, a large dark cloud, large hail and a loud noise. The answer is E.
3. During an earthquake, you should cover your head and face, crouching under a sturdy desk or table if possible. If you are driving, you should pull over and stop, if possible. The answer is F.
4. The best place for a fire extinguisher at home is the same place as at work, near an exit. The answer is D.
5. During an active shooter situation, you should run, hide and fight. While hiding, text or use social media to let others know where you are. The answer is E.