Understanding the Normalcy Bias Could Save Your Life.
I am going to tell you a true story of personal tragedy. It was one of the most valuable learning experiences of my life. I have one regret…I wish I would have understood a strange phenomenon called the normalcy bias.
The formal definition is the phenomenon of disbelieving one's situation when faced with grave and imminent danger and/or catastrophe. One tends to over focus on the actual phenomenon instead of taking evasive action and enters a state of paralysis.
On October 27th, 1993, my home, along with 350 others in Laguna Beach, California burned to the ground. It was our first house. My husband and I hadn’t even unpacked all our wedding gifts.
Early that afternoon, I went home to evacuate. My husband was out of town. As I made the long drive to the top of the hill where my house overlooked the ocean, the scene was surreal. Most of my neighbors were on their roof tops, watching the fire burn along the north side of the 133.
The fire was raging less than one thousand feet across the gorge, yet no one was packing their cars or preparing to evacuate. They were standing, like deer in the headlights, facing their inevitable doom. I hit the accelerator, pushing my old car to the limits of its capabilities, desperate to get to my home so I could get my important things. I promised myself to be out in 30 minutes or less.
But, something strange happened. I went from being focused on an efficient evacuation, to a complete state of disbelief. For the next three hours, I paced frantically back and forth, glued to the TV. I was biting my nails while wondering if it was really worth the trouble to pack up my car since the chances of something like this actually happening to me were so slim. Hello!
That, my friends, is the normalcy bias in action. I was paralyzed with indecision even though the facts of my situation were indisputable. I learned many life lessons with that experience. I no longer hesitate to evacuate immediately when we are threatened with a natural disaster, which is about once every other year in California.Continued on the next page