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There Goes Hurricane Florence; Here Come the Disaster Myths (scientificamerican.com)
23 points by okket 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 15 comments

I was in Miami for Hurricane Andrew. Civilization did not collapse. There was some theft of things like chainsaws and generators, but nothing that honestly wouldn't be par for the course in Miami.

Meanwhile, folks cooperating to help each other out was amazing. Two small anecdotes:

- traffic lights were out for at least a week. There were not enough police to man them all. But at a major intersection with two multi lane roads, taking turns just doesn't work. Someone has to direct traffic. So what would happen is a passenger would get out of a car and direct traffic for a few minutes till his car got through. After a bit, he'd then get back to his car and then he and the driver would head off. There would be a couple minutes chaos, then another passenger would hop out from somewhere and do the same. It was amazing and some sort of emergent behavior.

- A gas station for whatever reason was unattended for several hours with the pumps left on and a sign to just place cash into a drop box. So basically an honor market. The owner of that station later claimed folks ended up paying more than they had pumped. Don't recall if this was immediately before or shortly after the storm.

Overall, the recovery brought out the best in most people. Of course there were opportunists who took advantage after the storm, but that mostly wasn't locals.

This is a good podcast breaking down the reporting errors and myths that are repeated after large storms:


This article sounds like some sort of propaganda. In an emergency situation, people obviously will do extreme things.

There's little reason to believe so. Minds shaped by reinforcement learning will usually fall back on established behaviours, even in novel and unexpected situations. In stable societies, these behaviours include baseline trust, respect for property, non-violence, reciprocal altruism etc. Only if exposed to different and more hostile circumstances for a longer period should we expect different behaviors to develop.

9/11 in NY being a classic example of how that isn't what people tend to do.

A wild disaster - terrorist attack - the likes of which none of those people would have ever witnessed before. A couple of the world's tallest buildings collapse. Thousands dead. The exact details of the circumstances mostly unknown, along with the continued risk.

The New Yorkers that had to evacuate the greater area, post attack and collapse, proceeded to overwhelmingly behave with great calm. They didn't trample each other to death. They didn't behave crazily. They walked out of there, peacefully, covered in collapsed building dust.

One of the many iconic photos of that relative calm behavior:


I'd argue that's because the blackout wasn't a disaster per say, as much as a major inconvenience. A mob of bored but otherwise safe individuals is more dangerous than a mob of people in need but with a clear and sane way to fulfill that need.

I'm not so sure, the NYC attacks didn't offer particular criminal opportunity. As for the photo, a mass stoicly crossing a bridge isn't the best supporting evidence. Cause trouble and a mob sets on you.

The point of the article is that people behave in a civil manner in a disaster and the behavior during 9/11 seemingly supports this.

> Cause trouble and a mob sets on you.

Do you have anything to support this statement?

The original article contains links to the studies it is citing. If anyone has a serious criticism they can start here.





Some of these are behind paywalls, and the rest are more "meta-studies" as opposed to showing some methodology that arrived at a conclusion.

It's true people do extreme things in extreme circumstances. It is also true in general that we are born because we are born survivors.

While it might seem probable that people would seize the opportunity when you are not in a survival situation, once your brain kicks into survival mode almost nobody will think of that opportunity, not even most of those who previously ideated themselves doing the looting.

There is no reason to think looting for riches during disasters is a valuable survival strategy in general, and somehow we know this without being aware of it, as is the case with a fair bit of the machinery of our mind and body that tries to keep us alive.

The point of the article is that your assumption, the assumption that people often make, has been measurably shown to be incorrect.

I can measure the size of a football field in inches, but it doesn't mean the measure is useful.

It is absolutely useful if you're trying to measure the size of a football field. What in the article precisely does your analogy refer to?

This sounds like it likely isn't so. Clearly, for any disaster, there will be a certain amount of the things this article tries to suggest won't be.

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