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Do Preppers Suffer from Our Own Normalcy Bias?

TheEndisnear
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According to Wikipedia, Normalcy bias is a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster and its possible effects. This may result in situations where people fail to adequately prepare for a disaster, and on a larger scale, the failure of governments to include the populace in its disaster preparations.

I had heard this term myself for what seems like years, being used to describe what we have all seen, dozens if not hundreds of times in the media, whenever some disaster struck. Images of people acting completely shocked that something horrible happened even with a fair amount of advance warning. I don’t mean something unexpected like a tragic shooting incident; I mean threats that were publicly discussed. It wouldn’t matter how many days the news of the impending hurricane was incessantly broadcast on all forms of media; once it reached land and caused it’s predictable havoc, shell-shocked looking individuals would always be filmed, sadly walking around in a daze – looking at the destruction around them, picking up a family photo lying in the wreckage and wondering why they were suddenly without power, food, water, shelter or protection. It is if they never thought for a second that everything they were being warned about could happen. It always strikes me as sad that these people are living through a real tragedy but at the same time I wonder why they didn’t do anything. Normalcy bias was the answer to that question.

As preppers we need to fight against this normalcy bias ourselves and I believe that for many practicing preppers we are doing just that. We are preparing for disaster whatever form it may come in. We do not underestimate threats out there. If anything we are more in-tune with them. We don’t look at normal events that cause destruction and say ‘that would never happen to me’, and we don’t downplay the severity of any crisis. We prepare for the worst case scenario even though we hope for the best.

A reader of the Prepper Journal commented on a post a while back and posed the question: Do preppers have our own normalcy bias? It was a compelling concept and this got me to thinking. Maybe we do have our own mental state that we get into when facing a disaster that could, contrary to all of our collective thoughts on preparation, leave us more vulnerable than we think we are. Could we be missing something in our preparations that could leave us at greater risk in a disaster? Could being a prepper in some cases actually worsen the effects realized, simply because we are already thinking ahead and have made some preparations to help our family? It was an interesting thought.

Overestimating Disaster

It seems counter intuitive at first doesn’t it? How can being overly prepared for a disaster work against you? Wouldn’t having food stocked up enable you to eat longer, stay healthier and as a result, come out in better shape than someone who didn’t prepare? Wouldn’t your water storage make life so much more possible than for someone who didn’t have any stored up? How can having the basics needed to sustain life put you in danger more so than someone who has nothing?

I think it could work against us in a few ways. First, we could be seeing the worst in situations. I have been prepping for over 8 years now and I swear the feeling that something big is “just around the corner” has pretty much stayed with me the entire time. As soon as I “woke up” to the threats I saw around me I have been on guard and have placed myself in a mini race to the end. Like a lot of you I have been preparing as much as possible with the resources I have and getting ready for SHTF has been a daily thought, regardless of where I have been and what has happened in my life.

NormalcyBias

Try not to let what you think you know blind you to reality.

 

Has this caused me to miss out on some of the joys of life? Have I been too consumed to the point of ruining relationships with my spouse or family? I don’t think so, but that could happen if we aren’t focusing on what is important and listening. Wisdom is one of the many things I pray for and it works in all aspects of my life. I truly believe in my soul that my responsibility as a father and husband is to take proactive steps to protect my family but if I do so in a way that pushes them away from me I have failed.

It is easy to become consumed in preparing and I would say that sometimes that is perfectly fine –  even required, but you have to stick your head up out of the foxhole fairly often to make sure the reason you are prepping doesn’t hate you. Your family or the people you are prepping for are the most important thing. Don’t let your prepping alienate them or you might be left at the end of the world alone with your beans holding that family photo.

Your disaster is a forgone conclusion

I am guilty of thinking on more days than not, that our world is headed for a crash. I don’t know what that is, but my motivation isn’t for a hurricane or tornado even though a hurricane, winter storm or loss of a job is many times more likely than an economic collapse or the abuses of a tyrannical government. It is with these thoughts again in the back of my mind that I prepare, but I don’t believe that we are powerless to do anything and I am doomed.

I prepare because I want to live. I want my family to live – to survive and thrive so I will not be disappointed if nothing bad happens. Too many preppers get into this lifestyle because of an event like Y2K or the Mayan calendar, Global warming or the Yellowstone volcano. The danger of using these as motivators to start prepping is the let down or fatigue that can set in if nothing happens. How many of you know people who sold all their prepping supplies after Y2K came and it wasn’t the end of the world as we know it?

If the economy never tanks, if no winter storm ever happens that wipes out our power for weeks, I am not going to feel bad. I won’t throw away my preparations because they aren’t only intended for a specific event. They are for any event and it doesn’t matter to me if we never face disaster. Actually, I would prefer that. I think as preppers we should focus more on if something happens instead of when something we think will happen. Stepping back just that small amount will give you breathing room and perspective. Rather than throwing everyone in the bug out vehicle and heading off into the woods at the first sign of trouble, you can analyze what is happening and clearly consider the options you have. Instead of selling every piece of food or gear you purchased because some ancient tribe of people didn’t accurately predict the end of the world, relax with the knowledge that whatever happens, you will be able to better look after your family. We should be diligent in watching for threats, not disappointed if they don’t happen.

I know the predictable effects of any disaster

We have a lot of common themes we talk about when we are prepping like food shortages, power outages, rioting and widespread diseases. All of these things can definitely happen but don’t let what you think will happen blind you to reality. One area I think we might be overlooking is our neighbors when the grid goes down. Yes, I imagine that I have thought about prepping and maybe stored up more food and supplies than my neighbor, but I don’t know that. I believe that with a few exceptions, we are better situated to handle the medium duration effects of anything horrible, but I don’t want those thoughts to cloud my judgment if something does in fact happen. We think usually of hungry survivors clawing at our doors because we are the only ones with food. You don’t know that will happen.

I can easily anticipate the possible bad effects of a disaster and I don’t have any illusions that during that same disaster everything will be sunny and rosy, but we shouldn’t default to thinking the worst of people in every situation. None of us will be able to go it alone. There will always be people who are good people and some may need your help. Rather than thinking the first thing they will be doing is kicking down your door while you are imagining how you might have to shoot them; think about how you can help someone. It could be that your neighbor, even if they have zero supplies and no skills could be an extremely valuable asset. Use that wisdom I think we should all be asking for. Don’t assume you know what every situation will be. Rather than expecting the zombie horde at your doors, you might just find your own survival group. Sure, they won’t be bringing all of their own resources, but they could be a great advantage to your family.

Would you kick someone with medical skills to the curb simply because they had no food and couldn’t even spell garden? By that same token, what if your neighbor only brought his shared desire to protect his family and home? Conventional wisdom says we should show him the door because we don’t have enough for him but is that really smart in the long run? Another reader on our blog said that when it comes to looking at people for a possible survival group, they are “looking for the mindset more than the inventory”. I think that is very profound.

Instead of thinking of everyone who isn’t prepared as a threat, maybe we should be looking for partners. Any disaster is going to be different than you can plan or expect so I am trying to think of prepping in a different way. I want to make sure my normalcy bias on what could happen doesn’t put me in more danger.

What are your thoughts? Do we have our own normalcy bias?

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  • S. Cullen

    I’ve worked a number of disasters from major snow storms to hurricanes or tornados to large scale fires to riots…

    I’ve been the “the low end of the totum pole to being responsible for the response of manpower during these events.

    You plan for what is supposed to be coming your way, but you better well prepare for the worse case event or scenario as well, because I’ve found more often not what is predicted turns out not to be the case and generally things get worse than what was expected.

    Now if things turn out not to be as bad as the forecast is then so what. You’re ahead of the game…

    But if it’s worse and you don’t plan for it then your in trouble…

    FEMA says 3 days of water, food etc…

    I worked hurricane Andrew and had no electricity for 14 days in our city and Homestead FL got wiped off the face of the earth.

    So you just never know how things will go.

    I’d estimate 90% of the population don’t properly prepare… and they will be SOL….

    Desperate people can become very dangerous, far beyond just being helpless or indeed.

    Andrew was a very interesting storm in fact that it was forecasted to come into North Dade County FL, but about 90 out it took a left turn and came in around Homestead FL and devastated the area.

    So the old saying applies…

    “prepare for the worse and hope for the best “…

    Or an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure…

    More will always trump less in the time of disasters in determining winners and lovers….

    Each and every one is or can be responsible for their own level of preparing for whatever may come along.

    With the way things are in the world today, a simple pressing of a keystroke can lead to devasating results.

    How prepared will you be?

    3 days…. 3 months or 3 years?

    • Snake Plisken

      Another well thought out and written post Mr Pat!

      I am continually surprised by how unprepared Mom’s and Dad’s are for minor SHTF events. Isn’t that the prime reason for being a parent, to insure the health and welfare of your children?

      I’m not sure about the normalcy bias among preppers because I’m only one of two people that I know that prep in a consistent fashion. The other person that I know who preps is 20 years older than me and grew up on a farm so she learned all about raising animals, gardening and canning/pickling. Myself, I grew up in rural Arizona and often wouldn’t see the inside of a grocery store for a month or two.

      So yeah, prepping in order to provide for yourself in difficult circumstances is normal to me as it probably is to most preppers.

      It’s not considered normal to prep by 95% of the people I deal with on a daily basis and I’m fine with that. Never have given much account to others who think differently than I do. G-d hardwired me that way I guess.

      I have to to share this though, our water was off for a couple of days and I noticed once I tried to do some dishes. My good friend stopped by and wanted to know if I had any drinking water and I said how much do you need? How much do you have? he asked. I have enough for you and the family to have good clean drinking water for a week. I gave him 3 gallons from my water cache and it was all good. He had just brought his new born son from the hospital earlier in the day and I’m sure that water was put to good use!

      Normal around here is stepping up and lending a hand.

      Best to all!

      Snake Plisken

      • S. Cullen

        I’ve got no issues sharing with others under normal conditions or in case of short term problems.

        I’ve got one of those neighbors who on a number of occasions will hit up our freezer for food with the promise of replacing it, which has yet to happen.

        They also have 8 in the family where it’s just my wife and I.

        They also “prepare” by stocking up for maybe 3 to 5 days max…

        Now what if a catastrophic event were or does take place which will be long term.

        Would you be willing to share say 50% or maybe 75%of your stash with someone or others who didn’t bother to prepare?

        Are you willing to become the local new grocery store for your neighbors or neighborhood? Because you have stuff and they don’t.

        Will you say OK today I will but not tomorrow?
        How are you or will you handle this situation?
        What if out of their desperate motives “no” isn’t going to work.

        What then and how will you handle it?

        What’s your plan. It’s really something I think needs to be decided well in advance and not as it’s happening.

        How about helping your neighbor once and then they tell a friend or two to go see you because you’ve got stuff and then they are flocking to your front door because they are desperate.

        I’m sorry, and as cruel as it may sound, but if they’ve failed to prepare then they are prepared to fail and it’s not my fault even though I’ve tried to give them a heads up months ago but they decided it wasn’t important enough to do.

        Just my humble opinion opinion… Yours may vary…

        Cullen

        • Snake Plisken

          No Mr Cullen, I will not share my valuable preps with those who have not heeded my advice. Providing water to my friend with a new kid was a one off.

          Several of my friends/neighbors know i prep and they know that I won’t share with them in SHTF situation. They already know that I’m a grumpy. mean SOB and prone to shooting or stabbing someone. That’s how my grandpap raised me ( he was a ww2 vet and nobody to mess with ) but I NEVER start trouble with anyone.

          People start showing up at my house demanding food or other supplies are going to have the dogs or a load of buckshot on them. I always carry a 9 or 45 everywhere i go, even while out in the garden.

          My two neighbors that I trust watch my six and I’m confident they’ll be up to task should anyone ( or persons ) decide that I’m a ripe target. Being semi rural, we tend to notice any strangers around here and pay a particular amount of attention to them.

          I had to laugh Friday because there were some door to door salesmen canvassing the area and i heard my neighbor yell ” I wouldn’t knock on that guys door!” The sales guy said ” Why not?” ” He’s not up from his nap yet and it could go very bad for you!!” G-d bless my neighbor, she’s a peach of a gal.

          Best to you all and G-d Bless!

          Snake Plisken

      • Thank you very much Snake!

    • EgbertThrockmorton1

      SCullen
      excellent post to this article. Well done and thanks for consistently injecting reality into the fray.

  • Smooze1775

    My wife has what seems like normalcy bias about 2-3 times a year, then something snaps and she’s back to fervently prepping.

  • madelyn

    I don’t believe we have a grid of understanding for what is truly coming. If we did, we would all be moving to Ecuador. Like Lot’s wife whose heart was so tied to her life of “the way things used to be”, she couldn’t accept a move of God that looked like it had some bad stuff on it. Even with an angel taking her by the hand, pointing and saying, “GO THERE!”, in her hesitation, she missed her visitation and became a monument to the past. Sons and Daughters of Issachar understand and know the times in which we live and warn, prepare and equip others for what is coming.

  • usmarinestanker

    Way to keep the focus of the Prepper Journal Pat. I enjoy your constant infusing of common sense and taking a step back to analyze things. Your level-headedness is what got me started reading and why I continue.

  • S. Cullen

    The whole question really is this….

    “to prepare or not to prepare”.?…

    That is the basic elementary question at this point in time.

    One has to stop and look around at one’s environment be it local, national or international in scope.

    Then an assessment needs to be made to determine what is one going to prepare for.

    Weather events, economic issues, threats of possible terrorist attacks?… All of the above, some of the above or none of the above.

    Perhaps something else like job loss…

    Preparing really comes down to a personal assessment of one’s own environment.

    One’s environment also varies based on their geographic local… Urban, suburban or rural…. Each local will present various assests and disadvantages.

    Those in Montana I doubt will be preparing for hurricanes nor will people in south Florida be preparing for 3 feet of snow.

    So preparing will need to be tailored to a number of factors to be effective.

    This requires analysis and assessment by the individual to reach the proper level of “needs”…

    A family of 2, or a family of 8.

    Prepare for cold or prepare for heat.

    Young or old?

    When you really sit down and start looking at all the factors, possibilities etc it can become a bit overwhelming, unless one comes to the realization that one can not meet all possible events, situations, possibilities nor have everything stored to provide current quality of life levels.

    Preparing really requires I think a constant review, planning and effort to meet a level that each needs to set be it 50% prepared which will probably be ahead of most… or perhaps 75% prepared which is better… Or 85% prepared which more than likely get you to the 90% level over the rest of the population.

    100% totally prepared for all events and possibilities more than likely can’t or won’t be achieved unless you have a very large boatload of cash to spend to build the end all “bunker” stocked with everything that one would need to have.

    So look around and start in steps and acquire the basics and then move up the ladder adding step by step those items as you move forward and spread out over all the necessary items… Food, shelter, protection, supplies etc and realize it’s not a sprint your running but a long distance race to reach your goal/finish line…

    And in the process, try and sit back and enjoy the entire process and think if nothing happens then at some point in time you’re going to have one hell of a yard sale!!!

    Best of luck

    Steve Cullen

  • Mike Lashewitz

    I am quite sure many have and do suffer from “normalcy bias”. We also suffer from not enough money to adequately prepare.

    • Lonerider

      I have to disagree with you on not enough money, if you go to the grocery store once a week and buy one or two cans of whatever you want with your regular groceries, or an extra bag of rice or flour, shop the sales for basics like flashlights and camping equipment and medical supplies.it doesn’t take long to build up a pretty good stockpile of goods. I know I can’t buy everything I want or 5 years worth of freeze dried food. But over the last couple of years and buying a little at a time it adds up. I have a few 5 gallon jugs of water and a lot of 1 gallon milk jugs filled with water, like I said a little at a time adds up.

      • Mike Lashewitz

        You are correct, however the typical sheeple will not even consider the simplest path. Instead there will be “gubmint” hand out stations and they will got there or starve while others will loot and murder to survive.
        Some people have difficulty getting simple work done if there is a lot of it because they get confused and frustrated as to where to start so they instead do nothing because they are overwhelmed. Then there are the pseudo religious who will place it all in the hands of God until they begin to starve.
        My sister whom I love dearly is certain GOD made Barack Obama president. So even Barack can make no mistake . . . . 🙁

  • Vicky

    Wonderful article. This has been my mindset actually in my prepping. Its not to store up and hide out and hoard everything to myself. As a Christian, I believe we are here to help others through dark times. So really that is where I see myself. And yes joining with loved ones or neighbors too. As Ive read before, your skills and bartering will be very valuable if something major happens. With the anniv of the holocaust and hearing survivor stories, remember, so many survived due to people risking their own lives, planning, plotting, devising, feeding, hiding, etc those being persecuted. How many lives were saved by people who were not afraid to help another fellow man even at the threat of their own life? That is the role I see in this world and why I prep. So I am alive and healthy, but so Im able to help others out during that dark time.

    • Thank you very much for sharing your comments Vicky.