Tuesday, March 28, 2017

When People Don't Take a Snow Day

So we had a little blizzard on March 24. My county encompasses a variety of geographical features and includes urbanized, semi-rural, and rural areas. We knew the storm was coming a week in advance; advisories and warnings were broadcast through every media outlet and widely across social media as the storm approached.

Jeep adrift. (via Pixabay)
Predictably (because it happens every year), many people made the choice to get into their cars and venture out in treacherous blizzard conditions anyway. And they became stranded. Some were well prepared. Far too many were not: Vehicles not suited for the task. Low on fuel. Lack of proper winter clothing. Low cell phone batteries (or no phone at all). In a few cases, unprepared adults took small children along for the ride.

These people didn’t just inconvenience or endanger themselves (and their kids). When their vehicles became stuck on icy, snow-drifted roads, they became obstacles for snowplows and further delayed emergency crews trying to reach people with serious medical emergencies.

Firefighters love what they do, or they wouldn’t be in the fire service. But I’d be lying to you if I said they didn’t get a little frustrated being repeatedly called to situations that could have been prevented – such as people sliding their cars into snow-filled ditches after being told to stay off the roads.

So why do people routinely ignore the advice of authorities and put themselves (and their children) at risk?

That’s a question I have long pondered and discussed at length with my peers. None of us are psychologists or experts in human behavior, but we do have some observations gleaned from years of experience.

  1. Even in the “information age,” many people simply don’t pay attention to the news and what’s going on around them. 
  2. They underestimate the weather and driving conditions – a frequent occurrence among visitors and new residents. “I didn’t think the roads would be this bad” is a common refrain heard from drivers who have just been rescued.
  3. They are overconfident in their winter driving abilities.
  4. They overestimate the capabilities of their vehicles. (Owners of front-wheel, all-wheel, and four-wheel-drive vehicles are notorious for this attitude…)
  5. They think nothing will happen this time because nothing has before. In psychology, this is called “normalcy bias,” which is a form of self-delusion and denial about a given situation.
  6. They fail to plan ahead. (Also see 1. and 5. above.) 

Granted, there are instances such as the paralyzing January 2014 storm in Atlanta where people were caught on the roads and would have chosen to be elsewhere if they could. Sometimes a predicted storm ends up being worse than expected and catches a lot of people off guard. “Mission essential” personnel may have a legitimate need to be on the roads during a stormy commute.

All that said, the people who fare best are those who have a preparedness mindset. They watch the weather forecasts and avoid travel during storms. If they must be out and about, they dress properly, ensure their vehicles are up to the task, and carry emergency provisions. In other words, they are proactive about staying safe and not contributing to a larger problem.

I wish more people would think that way.