Important Issues in Disasters


In recent years, Japan has experienced a series of major disasters caused by earthquakes, torrential rains, and typhoons.
In recent disasters, the Great Kanto Earthquake caused by the Taisho Kanto Earthquake (M7.9-8.1) left approximately 105,000 people dead or missing, the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake caused by the Hyogo prefecture south area Earthquake (M7.3) left 6,437 dead or missing, and the Great East Japan Earthquake (M9.0) caused by the Tohoku Pacific Ocean Earthquake left The Great East Japan Earthquake (M7.3) left approximately 22,000 people dead or missing, and other disasters that cause extensive damage.
It is the normality bias that is the underlying factor that causes such damage, which I will try to explain below.


What is normality bias?


“Normalcy bias” refers to the human mind’s tendency to ignore dangerous situations because the information is inconvenient and treat them as “routine”. Typical examples of normality bias are as follows.

  • Even though the JMA has issued a tsunami warning and a major tsunami warning, they do not take any evacuation action, believing that “no tsunami has ever hit this area before, so there will be no tsunami this time either” and so on.
  • They do not take any evacuation action at all because “they have never experienced a disaster before.”
  • I have been reassured because the experts told me that it would be fine.

This psychology becomes more pronounced in times of disaster, and catastrophe strikes when people feel secure. To begin with, we need to recognize that natural phenomena are different from “what we humans think” because a few to several decades is only a blink of an eye on the earth’s time axis and cannot be considered on a human time axis, and natural phenomena are far beyond our imagination.
No matter how much progress has been made in physical measures such as the construction of evacuation towers, it is meaningless if people do not act, and since everyone can fall prey to normalcy bias, we must understand this, or we will repeat the same mistakes again.

In fact, this psychological phenomenon was also evident in the 2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Earthquake, and it is said to be one of the underlying factors that led to greater damage.
In the event of another catastrophe in the future, many people will comment that they never thought it would happen here.


Examples of damage caused by normalcy bias

Since there are many disasters in which normalcy bias can lead to great damage, here are some of the most typical ones. Typical examples are as follows.

  • Fire breaks out in subway in Daegu South Korea
  • The 2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Earthquake

etc. exist.
Of course, normalcy bias is more evident in other disasters as well. There are several examples of catastrophes that have occurred as a result of people’s psychological tendency to ignore unfavorable events.