normalcy bias when people refuse to believe an emergency is happening

Most Refuse To Believe An Emergency Is Happening – When It’s Happening

Apparently, a majority of people refuse to believe that an emergency is happening, when it’s actually happening.

Approximately 70 percent of people will move dazedly through normal activities in a crisis. Not sure of the exact number (I read it somewhere). And surely there are circumstances such that most people would essentially be forced to take action. However, due to my life experiences, I tend to believe that generally – most people (at least initially) may refuse to believe or accept that a real emergency is happening, when it’s actually happening.

I filed this under ‘security’ because this type of behavior could be a security risk to others during an emergency.

When confronted with an emergency or disaster, a small percentage will effectively deal with it. Some percentage of people will ‘lose their minds’. However a surprising percentage of people will act as though they are not affected. That the incident is somehow over, or has past them by. Or that nothing is happening or has even happened.

Change is something that most people are uncomfortable with. We humans live with our familiar routines and habits. We may have some difficulty with situations that are out of the ordinary (e.g. an emergency), and out of our ‘comfort zone’. Because we want things to be normal.

I have read that people (in an ’emergency’ situation) may seek approximately four opinions on what’s going on, and what they should do before taking any action — even in an obvious crisis.

For example, during an emergency, people will likely call out to others and say something like “What’s going on?” If and when someone tells them to evacuate, or to take some sort of action, many will not comply or take appropriate action – while continuing to ask other people the same question. “What’s going on?!” or something to that effect.

Why? Because they want someone to tell them that everything is okay, and will keep on asking or delaying action until they get what they want to hear. Or, until..

Or, they’ll wait until about four different people tell them to take whatever is the appropriate action.

Interesting huh?

Maybe it’s the result of a jumbled combination including panic, disbelief, normalcy bias, lack of confidence, a lack of situational awareness, lack of instinct, denial of the situation, or simply having no idea of what to do next – coupled with the fact that most people are simply ‘followers’ with no desire to be the first to take action.

Do you have any examples where you have observed this type of behavior?

[ Read: Analogy Of The 20 Titanic Lifeboats ]


  1. Yesterday I was at the local SamsClub when the tornado alarm went off. A female employee instructed everyone to go to the middle of the store. Huh? The only logic for this that I could come up with is that is where the clothing is located, with no racks of product overhead. The doors were also locked to keep people in. The majority of the good little sheep just followed instructions. Apparently none of them saw the footage of Amazon warehouses struck by tornados scattered everywhere. Upon reflection I didn’t choose the best place, but it was the closest. I hung out amongst the pallets of garden soil where I could dive between them if need be. Next time if the bathrooms are full I’ll head to the freezers if there’s time.
    Note to self: it’s tornado season. When out shopping, look around, have a plan. Store plans suck. Don’t stand in the middle of a warehouse waiting to get sucked out.

    1. The reason the store management locked the doors, is probably to prevent people from leaving without paying for their merchandice. As a former Fire Marshal, I can tell you that it is very illegal to lock the doors with people inside. If a fire had broken out inside, there would be mass panic. As Martha Stewart would say, “not a good thing”.

      When in a big box store, or any other place, always know where the exits are. Big box stores have at least one exit at the rear which has a panic bar with a timed release, usually 15 to 30 seconds. A sign on the panic bar with read, ” push bar, and the door will delay opening for xx seconds”. Large Carl

  2. Gopher just cited a good example of something that happens.. Someone may attempt to ‘take charge’ and start spouting out what to do. Whereas sometimes this may be a good thing if the person taking charge is correct and doing the right thing, the fact is that you shouldn’t immediately follow – just because someone ‘sounds like’ they know what they’re doing. Take a moment (seconds, a minute?, whatever the case may be), and use your own judgement. Think for yourself. Do not blindly follow, especially if it doesn’t make sense to you (assuming you have a head on your shoulders).. On the other hand, if what you hear is sound advice, well, maybe that’s the thing to do then..

  3. In any facility and a fire alarm goes off…inevitably people will ignore the alarm (as if it’s not real unless they see a fire or smoke) when it’s a medical office or clinic (designated “fire marshals” are suppose to knock on doors in their designated section and tell everyone to leave and to close the door behind the empty room) many times I would have to say to a patient-that’s the fire alarm-we were not told that there was going to be a drill so we must evacuate-let’s go-now!
    Also people will leave and stand just outside the building door-IMO it’s best to get some distance between you and building….

  4. Knowledge plus preparation is the key. I worked one place where we were under a persistent and rising terroristic threat. Found out that folks had never been trained in duck-and-cover. About 40 in the section and all but 3 worked for me. I spent time with each one individually identifying and preparing a d/c spot for them. Then practicing with each of them what to do when the d/c alarm went off. It was important to me that we all developed kinetic memory. Earlier bombings, in nearby countries, besides killing many folks, blinded and maimed hundreds who didn’t know what to do. Only one person refused to participate – one of the Americans, of course. She went around telling everyone that I was just being stupid. Things continued to get worse over time and bombings ramped up in the city. One day a credible bomb threat came in and the d/c alarm was sounded. Within 2 seconds everyone was secured against flying and falling debris. Except one. She was standing in the middle of the section looking around (I could see her out of the corner of my eye) until the all-clear sounded. Bombing happened later, up the road from us. My analysis: the woman didn’t want to look stupid, even for a moment, because one surely does when practicing ducking and covering. And she didn’t want to admit there was something out there that she really needed to fear and thus prepare for.

  5. This reminds me of 9/11. Employees were told to remain at their desks, and that everything would be all right. People wanted to believe it, but that normalcy bias cost so many lives. Many in the twin towers could have survived if they’d immediately evacuated down the stairs.

  6. It’s unfortunate that the vast majority of people depend on the media, their phones, or the government (all one in the same) to direct their actions. There is no room for independent thinking in this era of blind obedience. God forbid you should make your own decisions – especially when it comes to your family’s safety. When the government says everything is alright, most blindly nod to themselves muttering, “…nothing to worry about.” Just like the covid scare nothing is revealed and people lined up to follow the science. Everything is okay folks. That explosion down the road was merely a ballon popping. You don’t need firearms. The police will protect you and yours. Just like Uvalde. The southern border is secure. Don’t worry. Be happy.

  7. People will see and hear what they want.
    In the story Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven, the wife of a main character simply can not deal with the disaster.
    Getting ready to head out she packs makeup, nice clothing, things that are at that point beyond unimportant because she cannot grasp death is near.

    Most would forget that point, there is a segment of the population that is not capable of dealing with reality, specifically at times of fear and high stress.
    It’s not willful (yea, for some it is) it’s the mental inability to “go there”
    and act as if it’s just another day.

  8. The old adage ……. There are three types of people, first are those who make things happen, second, those that watch things happen and third those that wonder what in the hell just happened……….the sheeple will no longer have a watchdog, because they will be to busy protecting their own …….. sad to know that you are indeed on a runaway train heading to the rock wall.

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