Urgent Evoke

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Once again I've outstripped the capacity of the comments page, so I'm making a separate post of this.

Crystal Bellar has a great blog post about her experiences after Hurricane Katrina. This got me thinking about what we now know about how people respond in emergencies and what we might do to make ourselves and our institutions more flexible, resilient and better able to respond to crisis. Please if anyone else has experiences in a crisis of some kind-- positive or negative-- post it, along with your analysis of what went right/wrong and what needs to change to make the outcome better next time. Link your answer to this post and Crystal's post.

Here's my too-long comment:

Hi Crystal. You've gone through a very tough experience and come out the other side. I would just like to ask-- what, if anything, did you see at that very difficult time that could be built on in future emergencies? Where did you see people, or groups, recovering fastest and giving the most effective help to others? Can you identify any characteristics in people or organizations that allowed them to react more effectively than others? Can you identify any characteristics in people or groups that PREVENTED or HINDERED reacting appropriately?

The question of why our governmental agencies proved so incapable of responding in this emergency when they have been quite effective in others is beyond the scope of any one individual to investigate, but you are uniquely placed to inquire into the local circ***tances that helped or harmed local response.

The kind of investigation I'm thinking of is this: you may have heard in that in the '60's there was a famous case of a woman, Kitty Genovese, being murdered while dozens of neighbors failed to act. In this specific case it turned out that this was less a failure than people thought at first (contrary to reports, some neighbors DID call the police: also investigation shows that she was unable to call out after the first shouts for help, and so neighbors had no way of knowing that she was still being attacked. They thought the attacker had been scared away.) But based on this story psychologists began to investigate how people react to calls for help and they found discovered some very important information: A) the more people present the LESS likely people are to respond, B) in a group an individual will most likely not respond if others are not, and C) if you see someone who needs help when many people are around you can get everyone acting together if you a) respond yourself, b) take charge, c) look people in the eye and give them SPECIFIC directions.

This kind of spontaneous group action happened once in our neighborhood when I was living in Chicago in the 70's. The crime rate was through the roof and no woman dreamed of going out on the street alone after dark-- but we were near an elevated train stop and during rush hour it was generally safe enough to walk home, since so many others were doing the same thing. Well, one evening a woman got off the train in our neighborhood with a bag full of groceries and a guy hit her and snatched her purse. He tried to run out the gates with it, but the other travelers heard her scream, saw what happened and blocked the gates. A couple of burly guys wrestled the thief to the ground, someone went to call the cops (from the nearest pay phone, there were no mobiles at the time) and some of the women went to help the woman who'd been attacked and then convinced her that she had to testify in court against the thief. She was reluctant-- and without the persuasion of all the people who'd helped her she would probably have decided not to press charges. As the research suggests, there was a ring-leader in all this. The newspapers interviewed him later and he just said, "This is our neighborhood. Why should we let some punk ruin it?"

So-- Crystal-- what have you seen and what can you find out for us? And anyone else who's been in an emergency, please join in. There will always be a next crisis. Help us develop the tools that will let us respond the right way to it when it comes. After all-- this is our world, why should we let anything or anyone ruin it for us?

Views: 34

Comment by Umesh K**ar on March 29, 2010 at 8:42pm
hey can u please help me... I have done all the missions that i was suppose to and the runes showed up yesterday but they are not here anymore today... can u please tell me why this is happening
Comment by Sarah Shaw Tatoun on March 29, 2010 at 9:01pm
Umesh-- It must be a technical problem. Lots of people have been having trouble with their accounts in the last day or so. If you scroll down to the very bottom of the page, in the gray stripe on the right hand side you'll see a link in white letters that says 'Report a Problem'. Click on that and it will take you to a form where you can report a bug, or any other kind of problem. They should be able to either take care of the problem or tell you what to do to fix it yourself.
Comment by Riko Kamachi on March 30, 2010 at 10:30pm
Great comment to Crystal's blog post, very illuminating about the importance to collaborate and to take charge to get things done. I know this particular concept is also an important part of First Aid training. In an emergency it's human nature to be unable to act rationally; it's why you have a tendency to get groups of people clustered around someone who is badly injured, and not doing anything to help. It's an important skill to quickly a****s a situation, take charge and act. It does help to allieviate this mental 'paralysis' if you can give someone clear and simple instructions, such as 'stay with me' 'phone for an ambulance and tell them there is a patient who has had a heart attack.'
Comment by PJE on April 4, 2010 at 6:16pm
Hello Sarah,
This is another great post.
I don't have personal experience of emergency situations however I feel I am a primed by knowing about the bystander effect. I believe this sort of psychology ought to be taught seriously in high schools.
I was very impressed with Lauren Slater's 'Opening Skinner's Box' which looks at the great psychological experiments of the 20th Century. In her chapter 'In the unlikely event of a water landing' she explains Darley and Latené follow up investigations of the by-stander effect and the Kitty Genovese murder.
As you mention there is a diffusion of responsibility, the more people there the less likely someone is to respond. People follow the lead of others when what is needed is for responsibility to be taken.
We have to do that in the first three minutes of an emergency occurring. The longer you leave it the more frozen you become and the less likely you are to be able to respond and take responsibility. This is true for when one is in an emergency oneself too. You need to get up and act as soon as something bad occurs, don't wait.

Five rules are mentioned, they are good rules.

1) You the potential helper must notice the event is occurring.
2) You must interpret the event as one in which help is needed.
3)You must assume personal responsibility.
4) You must decide what action to take.
5) You must then take action.


Comment by Sarah Shaw Tatoun on April 22, 2010 at 10:51pm
Riko, I didn't realize the connection to First Aid training-- thanks for pointing it out.

PJE- Great rules to remember.

This is all good stuff for the resilient cities mission.


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