Disaster Psychology: Dispelling the Myths of Panic
- Paul Gantt (Safety Compliance Management Inc.) | Ron Gantt (Safety Compliance Management Inc.)
- Document ID
- American Society of Safety Engineers
- Professional Safety
- Publication Date
- August 2012
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 42 - 49
- 2012. American Society of Safety Engineers
- 1 in the last 30 days
- 79 since 2007
- Show more detail
The role of a safety professional within an organization is to protect employees from workplace hazards and to minimize risks in all situations. In that capacity, much of a safety professional’s time is spent assessing the hazards of employees’ normal work functions. Psychological concepts have even been brought to bear on the complex question of how to influence human behavior to minimize incidents. Behavior-based safety and similar psychology-based programs are implemented to understand and manipulate employee behavior. The underlying concept in many of these situations is that safety programs based on employees’ natural tendencies are more likely to succeed.
In contrast, not much time or effort is expended to identify and understand employee behavior in emergency and disaster scenarios. Most safety plans run the spectrum from doing the minimum required by OSHA and other regulatory bodies, to programs that mimic professional response organizations and agencies. However, little consideration is given to the natural tendencies of human response in emergency and disaster scenarios. The implication is that employee behavior is expected to conform to the organization’s emergency action and response plans. One can easily see the inherent flaw in such an approach.
Recent research and thinking related to disaster scenarios highlights the first disaster myth to be discussed—the myth of the "natural" disaster. Certainly the specific occurrence of a natural disaster, such as a tornado or an earthquake, cannot be predicted and, therefore, an element of natural randomness is inherent, leading many to believe that since the event is random so are its con-sequences. However, as Park and Miller (2006) note, the effects of natural disasters cannot be easily separated from con-sequences of human choice and action.
In the simplest of terms, the act of living in an area prone to natural disasters (e.g., tornadoes in the Midwest, earth-quakes in California, hurricanes in the Gulf Coast) puts one at a higher risk than average. Many more complicated variables, such as the level of emergency preparedness within an organization or community, the socio economic culture, as well as psychosocial aspects affect consequences in disaster and emergency scenarios (Perry & Greene, 1982). As Gantt (2008) notes, risk exists when a hazard is mixed with an expo-sure (e.g., human presence). The actions of people within an organization and community can either increase or decrease their risk of exposure to and consequences of the threat posed by an emergency or disaster.
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