Preparation and the Normalcy Bias
Be prepared is the motto of the Boy Scouts and that early lesson has stayed with me to this day. However, one of the biggest impediments to getting prepared is what is called the “normalcy bias.” This is the definition take from the Wikipedia article on the subject.
The normalcy bias, or normality bias, is a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster and its possible effects. This may result in situations where people fail to adequately prepare for a disaster, and on a larger scale, the failure of governments to include the populace in its disaster preparations.
The assumption that is made in the case of the normalcy bias is that since a disaster never has occurred then it never will occur. It can result in the inability of people to cope with a disaster once it occurs. People with a normalcy bias have difficulties reacting to something they have not experienced before. People also tend to interpret warnings in the most optimistic way possible, seizing on any ambiguities to infer a less serious situation.
That sums up nicely my overall concerns about “being prepared.” In all fairness, however, the normalcy bias has its positive side: it allows us to move through our daily routine and conduct our daily affairs in a smooth and relatively efficient manner. It reduces the number of decisions we have to cope with to a manageable number so we are not overwhelmed by the sensory bombardment we experience in modern life. But having said that, it also numbs us to the signals that would alert us to impending danger, raising the reaction threshold level so high that we are “surprised” when something happens “unexpectedly” despite the fact that warning signs may have been present.
The real problem that we face is finding a balance between being overwhelmed by the constant flood of minutia, hence finding refuge in the normalcy bias and sifting out from the endless stream bombarding us the relevant signals of a problem, either immediate, or much more difficult, the growing evidence of a disaster building on the horizon that is real and not imagined in a flood of conspiracy theories.
This brings me to ROI or return on investment, which originally was an economic/investment term, but has come to be used anywhere where you want to assess the expected return on the expenditure of resources (time, money, talent, people, etc.). For example: You may only have a limited amount of funds/time/resources to allocate to your preparation efforts, so what expenditures will give you the most ROI and how will you prioritize that effort? These are hard choices for everyone. For example:
- Who/what do you want to protect? There are limits to what you can do so how do you choose?
- What is the best approach to reach your goals? The longer you wait, the more rushed you will be when you actually get started and your decisions won’t always be the most optimal and they could even be useless or disastrous, depending on what necessitated your belated efforts.
- Since you cannot prepare for everything, how do you prioritize which types of disasters you want to deal with and then prioritize the preparations?
Outline of Resources
In an effort to assist you, I have begun writing a series of posts that address different aspect of preparation. They are listed below with links to the posts. This outline will be fleshed out as additional information is added.
- What Does Getting Prepared Involve? This is the initial topic that goes over the basic priorities you should consider. We, as a nation, are not prepared. See The Emergency Preparedness Poll.
- Water: 60% of Your Physical Makeup You can live 30 days without food, but only 3 days without water.
- Food: Our Continuing Sustenance Some things you may not have considered, but are important. I do not give you a list of things to buy, since that is actually counter-productive. Instead I give you rules to follow in selecting your foods, main and supporting items.