Disaster Myths and their Relevance for Warning Systems

Katja Schulze, Daniel Lorenz, Bettina Wenzel, Martin Voss

ABSTRACT

Warning systems are technically, socially, and organizationally shaped and rest on specific assumptions concerning human behavior during disasters. The common notions about people’s behavior in disaster situations are often not based on empirical data, but rather on so-called “myths” which overemphasize rare and situation-dependent extreme behaviors such as panic, disaster shock, looting or helplessness. Due to the fact that these expectations are shaped within social environments, different stakeholders such as a heterogeneous population and professionals exhibit different assumptions. These assumptions may not only be misplaced, they additionally interfere with warning systems. The paper compares empirical results of three connected surveys: a comprehensive document analysis on disaster behavior, qualitative interviews with disaster relief workers and a quantitative representative poll. By contrasting the status of research with professional narrations as well as with the people’s expectations, different expectations and their variations are explored.

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