Myths About Disasters

There are numerous myths and misconceptions about how people react during a disaster and the kind of help needed immediately following the event.

The common stereotype is Hollywood's movie scenario of screaming people running wildly from catastrophe, knocking each other over in order to save themselves.

Elderly man hanging the U.S. Flag.That myth is simply wrong, according to research in the area. Instead of causing panic and irrational behavior, the tragedy at the World Trade Center on 9-11 brought people together and created a sense of "we-ness."

Research shows that in dangerous emergency situations, people actually rarely turn against each other, lose control or panic.

Additional myths and realities regarding disaster involve survival and assistance during the aftermath.

Disaster relief experts with the Pan American Health Organization cite these examples:

Myth: Any kind of assistance is needed, and needed now!

Reality: A hasty response that is not based on an impartial evaluation contributes to the chaos. It is better to wait until genuine needs have been assessed.

Myth: Epidemics and plagues are inevitable after every disaster.

Reality: Epidemics do not spontaneously occur after a disaster and dead bodies will not lead to catastrophic outbreaks of exotic diseases. The key to preventing disease is to improve sanitary conditions and educate the public.

The University of Arkansas' Environmental Health & Safety department has compiled a few facts and myths about tornadoes. Some examples are:

Myth: Tornadoes only occur in spring months.

Reality: Most do occur during the months from March to June and from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. However, tornadoes have been recorded in every month and at all times of the day and night.

Myth: Windows should be opened to equalize pressure and minimize damage.

Reality: Opening windows allows violent winds to enter. Do not waste time with windows if a tornado warning is issued; instead, seek shelter immediately.