Organization is a key element in preventing panic, particularly during times of crisis. This is because we think and behave from the rational parts of our brains. Once panic sets in, however, we no longer think rationally; rather our thoughts and actions come from the primal centers of the brain where survival overrides ration. If you have ever seen a mother protecting her young you will understand the power that primal instincts have over our behaviors. These instincts can lead to foolhardy decisions that may further endanger life. People have actually plunged to their death because they truly believed that they could survive a fall or the frigid waters of an ocean. This kind of irrational belief is a result of the fight/flight response system.
The best way to avoid irrational thoughts and beliefs is to have a well-organized and thought-out plan conceived long before the disaster because plans developed during a crisis are bound to be fraught with errors.
It is important that each household have an emergency action plan, and this should be periodically rehearsed.
These plans should include a checklist of all actions required to secure the home and prepare for evacuation. Keep in mind that some actions may seem contradictory to one's instincts. Evacuees who have gated homes or live in gated communities for example will want to lock the gates upon departure, but those gates should be left open so that emergency crews and disaster officials can enter and defend the property. Also, some actions might not be part of one's regular thought processes such as turning off the gas to the home. Because actions like these are not part of our routine "survival" we are likely to forget them in a crisis, which is why they need to be part of our individual emergency action plans.
The checklist that we develop as part of our emergency action plan should be prioritized to ensure necessities are taken care of first.
For example, when preparing an evacuation bag make certain that all medications are included. A crosscheck system should also be in place to ensure that nothing is forgotten. For example, if mom is responsible for packing the evacuation bags she should have a list of what goes into those bags. Dad should have his own identical list to make sure that mom didn't forget anything. This crosscheck system is very important because when we are frightened our perception of time seems to speed up. Our minds tend to engage in many things at once, which mean that even though we distinctly remember doing something, such as putting the dog's anti-seizure medication into the bag, we don't actually do it. This is because the mere thought was so powerful that we truly believe that we performed the action. A crosscheck system helps to ensure that Fee Fee get her medication.
As part of the emergency evacuation plan it is important that all family members have a job, even children.
This is because each individual will be highly susceptible to the stress of the others so everyone needs a job to focus on. To explain this, think about a football game or concert. Often a crowd's excitement is infectious, causing even sad people to have a good time. These emotions are not limited to feel-good situations but also apply to highly stressful ones such as disasters. By disseminating jobs, everyone has a task or function to help focus on something other than the crisis at hand. During times of crisis it is important that each person contribute to the safety and welfare of others.
When it comes to animals, most of us in urban areas are limited to the family dog or cat, but those in rural areas may have livestock to consider. A good emergency action plan has to include these animals. This might mean implementing an evacuation plan for them, or simply setting them free. While no one wants lose animals, adding to the confusion of a disaster, allowing them to fend for themselves is a more humane alternative to keeping them locked up in harm's way. It should be noted that the animals allowed to escape during the tsunami of southeast Asia did not impede relief efforts and in at least one case an animal led a person to safety.
Through well thought-out and rehearsed emergency action plans people can avert unnecessary panic and confusion, which only worsens an already tense situation. As biological organisms we have a strong instinct to survive, yet those instincts often preclude us from thinking rationally. Everyone needs to feel needed, so it is important to include all family members in the emergency action plan and make sure everyone has a job. With a good plan we can stay rational and increase our chances of maintaining physical and psychological health.