Sunday, March 30, 2008

Top 10 disaster Myths

Top 10 Myths about Disasters

by aftershock action alliance

  1. The Government Emergency Managers Primary Interest is Protecting you and your loved Ones?

This is one of the most common myths about disasters. FEMA, OEM, and EAS are not about protecting human lives but about maintaining control. In Katrina they did not allow the helicopter pilots fly to rescue survivors because they had not sufficient “control of New Orleans” but did drop use helicopters to drop Navy SEALs in to protect valuable warehouses and the district branch of the Federal Reserve. All disaster research agrees the most casualties occur within the first 24 hours of a disaster, the government themselves they do not plan to “intervene” during major crises for at least 36 hours. There first interest is in controlling populations and maintaining COG (continuance of government), which they actually say publicly on their web-sites and publications. Property and government infrastructure come before you, your friends and your loved ones as priorities for all levels of government emergency managers.

  1. Emergency Workers are your first line of aid during a disaster?

The truth is that 90% of those rescued during a disaster are rescued by civilians. This number has remained relatively unchanged for 50 years, despite the growing budgets and technological sophistication of first responders. Even search and rescue is dominated by civilian volunteers with no training. Your co-workers, neighbors, family and friends are the people most likely to provide meaningful aid and relief during a disaster.

  1. People will panic or act selfishly during an emergency?

We have all seen movies about disasters where people panic or act in their own self-interests (at the detriment of those around them) during a disaster. The research from various disaster centers who have analyzed thousands of case studies from across the globe and going back 65 years, suggest that it is exceptionally rare that people panic. People do panic in specific situations like airports, hospitals, schools and stadiums where they are surrounded by strangers in a a total environment. Even in these situations it only occurs about a ¼ of the time. There are almost not accounts of people panicking in their own neighborhoods or places of work. One only needs to think back to Katrina or 9/11 to see that people make rational decisions even when confronted with massive disasters. Disasters also tend to bring out the best in people. Spontaneous mutual aid is actually more prevalent during times of crisis. People are more willing to help each other out even at risk to themselves. Crime rates actually drop quite low during and following disasters. The press tends to over-emphasize looting but the amount of looting that occurs during a disaster is actually less than the amount of shop-lifting that occurs during a normal day. The looting is also mostly of food and supplies (diapers) that would perish anyways and is often needed by victims of disasters. The supposed crimes (rapes of children) at the Superdome during Katrina all turned out to be false and started actually by the New Orleans Police Chief in a stupid ploy to get more attention, he was fired a few weeks afterward. Despite all the research with disasters and people coming together during times of stress and crisis, the government still refuses to believe the unwashed masses won't panic and are loathe to give real information to the public about a disaster.

  1. Donating money to large and established charities is the best way you can help others during a disaster?

US News and World Report in 12/2006 did exhaustive research on donations for relief following disasters. They found about 10% of all donations actually went to direct relief efforts. The rest of 90% of those charitable donations went to other things. For example in 2005 the head of the Red Cross, Marsha Evans pulled in $651, 957 that year and yet only worked 30 weeks. Other charities are not better. 25% to 50% of all money goes into fund raising and development, that means up to ½ of the money you donate is to get more people to donate. Large amounts of money then are essentially funneled to PR and advertising firms that are there to make a profit.

  1. We are better today at predicting disasters.

According to University of Delaware researchers, the largest disaster center in the world, we are actually no better at predicting disasters then we were in 1984. For nearly the past quarter of a century we have not improved one bit, in predicting when disasters will strike. We are even worse at predicting the effect of disasters. In James Surowiecki's well researched book The Wisdom of Crowds, emergency experts are not even better than public at predicting the damage (property loss and causalities) caused by specific natural disasters. A recent NSA intelligence report suggests we may actually be in a worse position to predict terrorist events then we were 10 years ago. The International Committee on Climate Change, made up leading scientists, suggest “the current climate chaos, throws many of our best predictive models and methodologies into serious doubt about their efficacy”.

  1. Disasters hurt the economy.

There is the wide spread belief that no one wants a disaster because it negatively impacts the economy, but unfortunately like war disasters are situations where corporations can make massive profits. In Naomi Klein's well researched best-seller The Shock Doctrine, she shows that the corporate elite actually counts on disasters for their economic health. Companies like Haliburton, Exxon, GE, Wal-Mart, etc. actually benefit from disasters receiving no-bid sweetheart deals from the government and permanent contracts that siphon off public funds. In on a local level disasters are big profit makers for real estate developers that can get property at subsidized prices, while corporations are given tax breaks for staying in the area or moving into it. In addition, disasters are useful for rolling back labor gains for workers and privatizing public agencies (e.g. Schools and sanitation). While it is true the poor and working class get damaged economically from disasters the rich and corporations can actually get more money. Most shockingly is that according to the Wall Street Journal, disasters actually cause the stock market to rise, disproportionately for the wealthy companies and investors. On a local level property and income taxes almost always rise for poor and working class people with a substantial cut in public services.

  1. There are sufficient medical services available in case of a biological event (pandemics, bio-terrorism, etc.).

There is not enough stockpiled medications for everyone according to a 2005 CDC report. That report in facts throws doubt on that there is even enough medical supplies for first responders (who get priority of course during a disaster). The reason for this dangerous shortfall is that pharmaceutical companies in this country are not required to provide drug supplies to the government at below market price. Norway for example makes all drug companies operating in the country donate (free of charge) enough drugs to cover every person in Norway. These companies are the same but due to lobbyist efforts this is not true in the US, where many of these companies are located. It is not only a matter of drugs, other medical services are precariously low. There are fewer ambulance per capita in the US than in Columbia and 48 other countries. We rank 51st in emergency room doctors and nurses in the world. Over the past year the government has defunded about 25,000 public hospital beds and the trend seems to continue. Most urban hospitals operate at about 90% capacity (a requirement of most managed care systems) so nearly any disaster will quickly overwhelm these hospitals.

  1. Rural areas are always safer than urban areas during a disaster.

The truth is that rural areas are no safer than urban areas when hit by disasters. Causality rates are slightly higher in rural areas (per capita) than urban areas. The reason for this is the lack of infrastructure in many rural areas, making it easier for people to be cut off for longer periods of time. Rural areas also have a lack of people power, since we know most rescue efforts rely on civilian volunteers, cities have denser populations and thus more people to provide aid.

  1. Disasters are apolitical events.

Nearly all disasters are political events. The causes of disasters from 9/11 to Katrina have political dimensions. Aid and relief efforts have political calculations. Populations with more political clout (e.g. Money) receive more aid and relief. Affluent populations even have their own private relief and aid organizations subsidized by the government. During the recent wildfires in the wealthy white areas of Malibu more firefighters were dispatched than in the more populous areas of poorer valleys struck the same year by wildfires. The wealthy residents had their own private firefighters who literally saved some homes while allowing others to burn. Groups like Helpjet, cater to the rich providing private evacuations to luxury resorts while others wait for bottled water in the Superdome. Our country has moved into a have and have not approach to disaster relief and aid where certain lives and homes are considered more worthy of protection than others. The recovery efforts in devastated areas is also fiercely political. In New Orleans, undamaged public housing was destroyed to make room for new condominiums sold to well-connected developers for 1 cent to the dollar. Charles Scott, one of the top researchers in disaster studies from Stanford University, conducted an 18 year study on insurance and government pay outs for disaster victims concluded, “It is clear that poor people have little reason to hope they will be treated fairly when it comes to disaster recovery. In many ways they are victimized again by the entire process.” Naomi Klein has pointed out in her book and numerous articles and papers that the extreme right-wing has successfully used the “shocks” of disasters to roll back labor laws and civil liberties to further their political agendas.

  1. There is nothing you can do during a disaster.

This is the most destructive of all the disaster myths. There is so much you can do when joined by your friends, co-workers and neighbors. We know that civilian volunteers providing mutual aid is the most effective form of both direct relief and recovery and thus there is much you can do to mitigate the most devastating effects of a disaster. You must prepare and be ready to act with your community to protect itself both from the disaster and the political elements that would exploit the situation. You can find help on how to prepare and organize for disasters at

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