Normalcy Bias

I read an interesting article the other day that addresses one of the main problems with, first, preparing for an emergency situation and, second, actually responding when we’re in one. That’s a thing called “normalcy bias.

We operate mentally, psychologically, and physically in an assumed state of normalcy. Well, sure, of course we do — that’s the definition of normal. We could not function in a constant state of stress, of being prepared for attack or disaster. We have to have a normal, daily routine and we have to be able to assume for the most part this is how life will continue. We are “programmed” this way by our DNA, so to break out of this mode of thinking is difficult. The problem occurs when our internal bias toward normalcy causes us to underestimate or misinterpret danger signals. We do not adequately prepare for emergency and disaster situations, and when warned of an impending emergency or disaster situation we tend to interpret those warnings in an overly optimistic way.

Because we’re not psychologically and mentally prepared to deal with an emergency, unnecessary hardship and death results from what would otherwise be a very manageable situation. Lack of preparation for disasters often results in inadequate shelter, supplies, and plans to manage the situation. Even when all these things are in place, normalcy bias can impede taking proper action at the when required (which is usually immediately).

Normalcy bias can also cause people to drastically underestimate the possible effects of an emergency situation or disaster. Normalcy bias inclines a person to believe everything will be all right, even while information from public media or neighbors should give them reason to believe otherwise. The normalcy bias creates a cognitive dissonance that they then must work, mentally and psychologically, if not physically, to eliminate.   Some manage to eliminate it by simply refusing to believe warnings, refusing to take emergency action. (This is the ostrich head-in-the-sand approach.) Others may eliminate the dissonance by escaping the danger. The refusal to accept reality and react in an appropriate manner not only causes problems for the subject individual, but also for others in the situation, such as first responders who must devote extra time and energy to the non-responsive person.

The effects of normalcy bias can be reduced by allowing yourself to consider various disasters that might occur and mentally (if not on paper) list actions you would take should that event occur. (Click on the link to download a free disaster preparedness guide.) We spend so much of our time in a normal state that it becomes difficult to think of any other state of being. Being prepared, as we’ve mentioned in an earlier article, doesn’t necessarily mean moving to the mountains and growing your own turnips. In fact, there is a wealth of information available on “urban survivalism.” I’ve pinned and linked a number of images and sites concerning that here. Just for fun, I created a blog post dedicated to knot tying. Yes, really. In an emergency situation knowing how to tie the right knot can be a life saver.

So here’s the bottom line: Normalcy Bias is useful and even necessary for 99.99% of the days of your life. But that one time when it’s not, it can endanger your life and the lives of our loved ones. Considering and planning for a time when things go sideways, when the sh*t hits the fan doesn’t make you a prepper or a conspiracy theorist. In fact, having a plan and being prepared can make you the hero of the day. If the time comes when extra food, first aid supplies, and a plan to survive a sh*t-hits-the-fan situation is the order of the day and you’re the person who has these things, plan to be needed.

Until next week,


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