While working for the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, we discovered counter-intuitive behaviours in people facing an emergency. We have a cognitive need to believe we are safe. We distance ourselves from emergencies and disasters in order to cope with day-to-day life. As a result, the public can figure out what to do in case of an emergency, based on what they have been taught and experienced, but they need a few moments to calm down and recall that information.
When people hear that an emergency is happening, they look for reasons not to have to do something. Words like “may have,” “could” and “likely” give permission to people to rule themselves out.
Social media is critical to mobilizing people in an emergency. Even before text messaging and social media, 90% of people were reached through informal channels (e.g. telephone, word-of-mouth).
The important information to provide in an emergency is
- What is the danger?
- Where is it happening?
- How can you be more safe?
- When will it happen?
And when more than one “official source” is distributing the information, it is considered more urgent and severe.
Bottom line, don’t give people reasons to rule them selves out of protecting their themselves and their families.