Monday, December 6, 2010

Human behaviour in Emergency situations

In Canada when an ambulance or fire truck is on the road all of the cars 'turn into little automatons.' This is how it was put to me by a British woman I know. She explained that it is one of the impressive points in Canadian driving. We tend to be rude and slopping but as soon as there is an emergency: traffic light off, emergency vehicles on the road we switch into emergency situation and perform the necessary actions. This is not the case with road work or accidents, but in emergency situations we know what to do.

The Canadian emergency preparedness handbook says "when disaster strikes, people usually react in a calm and reasonable manner." We are trained to be input, output machines. We wait for information and react upon it. We conserve the resources we have and make sure those we have responsibility for are accounted for and properly looked after. A booklet on preparedness aims to give information ahead of time and make us responsible for others aside from immediate family: It reminds us to look after our elderly or handicapped neighbours.

From my own experience --that being fire, earthquakes and lots of drills-- this is correct. The alarm goes off or the room begins to shake and I think 'do I go under my desk or do I exit the building?' My mind is blank apart from that question. I wait for input. We are told where to go and we go there. This is how the Canadian school system works. It doesn't prepare us for much but it does prepare us for emergency actions. Once we are outside in the cold we start to wake up. If it is an emergency and I am not traumatised then I will put myself into the group that will help others. If I need help myself I call attention to that fact and then stay calm.

There are three questions I would like to ask:

First, In regard to traffic emergencies there was the remark that this is particular to Canada. How much of this is peculiar to our Country? How much particular to BC?

Second, does everyone wait to be told what they can do to help?

I know I tend toward being the good citizen because I believe others will not be paying enough attention to notice if something goes wrong, does this carry over to emergencies?

Third, and most interesting: If we had a 'minor emergency' mentality at all times, would that improve our societies?

The economic crisis says that it would not be an advantage. We would simply be stressed and unhappy. But that is a monetary and not a environmental problem. If we focussed on making sure the elderly in our community got help beyond municipally funded help, this would be an improvement. If in general everyone worked more closely with their communities and were more careful and aware of the resources, it would be an improvement. The danger is the drain of a constant emergency mentality and the narrow-mindedness that it encourages. Those who lived during the wars and also during Depressions are less able to experiment, less willing to change. The luxury they have is theirs and they will not give it up, their diets cannot be improved, everything they can get they must horde. These would not be improvements. The improvement would be encouraging awareness of what needed to be done. It would be the binary: Are you hurt? Identify yourself. Are you stable? Offer help. Keep yourself stable. Much must be added to make the binary a rich and worthwhile life but as a basic premise it adds a great deal of clarity.

The related question is can we do this? We are not offered as much information when it is not an emergency. What we are listening for is harder to find. The clarity offered by an emergency cannot appear when it is not an emergency because there are many things we must do in order to keep our lives the way we want them.

No comments: