Bird flu. I'm not going to pretend I know a thing about whether it is going to make the leap and become a human pandemic, disrupting societies worldwide and killing millions. I can imagine it might. On the other hand, I can imagine our anxious flu vigil might turn out to be one of the many frightening phantoms we all feel hanging over us. Our species is modifying our global ecosystem so rapidly that we've come to distrust its very predictability.
We'd all be smart to visit the FluWiki and learn more.
But it is interesting to think about what we know about how people respond in a crisis. Since Hurricane Katrina, we're frequently lectured by various government bodies on how we should be prepared to take care of ourselves for 72 hours. Good idea I guess (and one of these days maybe I should get in some supplies.)
But what really cheers me up are stories of how very well ordinary people do when confronted with the impossible. Effect Measure shared a nice, light, story recently of British firefighters who cut through some prospective flu foolishness.
No nonsense there.
This accords with what disaster experts say about ordinary human response to unthinkable catastrophe: we tend to be more sensible than the authorities anticipate. Reuters Alertnet posts a "TIPSHEET: Aid experts debunk post-disaster myths." Number One on their list:
It seems likely that one reason our species has lasted this long is that helping save others helps us get a grip when confronted with catastrophe.
The additional five myths on the Alertnet Tipsheet are also well worth pondering. They are
- MYTH: The best international response is to send in rescue teams immediately.
- MYTH: Dead bodies should be buried quickly to avoid disease.
- MYTH: Survivors have lost everything except the clothes they stand up in. The best response is to give them second-hand clothes.
- MYTH: The best way Westerners can help children who have been orphaned in a disaster is to adopt them.
- MYTH: The best way to help survivors is to put them in temporary settlements.