I don’t know about you, but I didn’t even hear about an earthquake in Chile. Simon Black at http://www.sovereignman.com/ makes some really good points about preparation in this article. He concludes that millions of people are in the throes of normalcy bias. Here is the definition of normalcy bias:
The normalcy bias refers to a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and its possible effects. This often results in situations where people fail to adequately prepare for a disaster, and on a larger scale, the failure of the government 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 that it never will occur. It also results 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.
by Simon Black
February 14, 2011
Northern Araucania, Chile
As I was exploring property in the region over the weekend, an earthquake whose epicenter was in nearby Concepcion shook the ground with a magnitude beyond 7.0. This was about as powerful as the earthquake that destroyed Haiti last year, plunging the country into complete turmoil.
So what happened with a 7.0 down here in Chile? Panic. Death. Chaos. Disorder… right? Wrong. It was like it never happened.
There was hardly a scrap of damage, and folks went on about their day without the slightest bit of concern. Stores didn’t close, restaurants kept serving, and children played football in the parks without giving it a second thought.
As for myself, it felt more like a 5-second amusement park ride… with all the intensity of a close friend waking you from a nap in order to tell you some good news.
According to the Richter Scale, ‘destructive’ earthquakes exceed 5.5 in magnitude. This was about 177 times that threshold… and yet, nothing really happened. Look, I don’t intend to be cavalier about a major force of nature, but I want to be very clear about how I appraise the situation on the ground:
In short, Chileans know what to expect. They don’t kid themselves about living in the Ring of Fire, and so they’ve taken the necessary precautions to mitigate the risks and reduce the impact of any disaster.
I’ve been reading a lot lately about something called normalcy bias; it’s a psychological reference to human beings’ natural coping mechanism in a potential crisis situation. When faced with very clear warning signs, people’s normalcy bias causes them to ignore obvious facts and fail to prepare.
Normalcy bias is that little voice inside that says, “nothing bad is happening here, proceed as normal.”
When you see some idiot who makes the nightly news for driving his car into a flood, or hear about the folks who ignore hurricane and wildfire warnings, or read about civilizations throughout history that hung around for approaching marauders to pillage and enslave their cities… this is all normalcy bias.
Now– I’m an optimist, and I think it’s the right attitude to try finding the bright side of any situation… but it’s just plain crazy to ignore facts and fail to prepare for something that is so clear and obvious.
Chileans know that living in the Ring of Fire brings about certain hazards. Rather than ignore the data and tell themselves that the ground won’t shake, they prepare. They build structures to withstand trauma, they set up robust emergency services, and they create resilient supply chains.
As such, when a shock does come, they truly can go on about their lives with minimal disruption. Advantage Chile.
Most people could probably stand to apply similar measures to their own lives– how are my family and I at risk, what are our chief vulnerabilities? Loss of income? Loss of home? Loss of freedom? Loss of health? How can I mitigate these risks?
The solutions don’t need to be expensive– sometimes it just takes time and commitment: researching opportunities in foreign markets, making the decision to send off the paperwork to open a foreign bank account, having the will to eat better and get more exercise, etc.
Whatever the answer, everyone first needs to define his or her own risks… and probably start by listening to our instincts.
Like animals in the wild, we all have instincts that tell us when something is wrong… even in the face of utter calm. When traveling across Africa, I was constantly amazed at how animals have such a refined sense of danger.
Even when they’re just grazing around the plains in Tanzania and there’s not so much as a butterfly to threaten them, you can see animals perk up and sense danger in the stillness.
I think we have these same instincts, even though we don’t face the same dangers. With so much going on in the world right now– food prices, capital controls, looming debt crises, political instability, etc.– it’s time to ditch the normalcy bias, listen to those instincts, and prepare.