Myth: Disasters are unusual events.
Reality: Disasters occur frequently, and the same types often occur in the same locations (e.g., flooding in Bangladesh). Since 1995, on average, more than one natural disaster per day has been reported throughout the world.*
Myth: Disasters kill people without respect for social class or economic status.
Reality: The poor and marginalized are more at risk of death than are rich people or the middle classes.
Myth: Earthquakes commonly result in a large number of deaths.
Reality: The majority of earthquakes do not cause high death tolls. Deaths can be reduced further by constructing anti-seismic buildings and teaching people how to behave during earthquakes.
Myth: People can survive for many days when trapped under the rubble of a collapsed building.
Reality: The vast majority of people extracted alive from rubble are saved within 24 hours, and often within 12 hours of impact.
Myth: Panic is a common reaction to disasters.
Reality: Most people behave rationally in a disaster. While panic occasionally occurs, many disaster sociologists regard it as insignificant.
Myth: People flee in large numbers from a disaster area.
Reality: Usually, there is a "convergence reaction" and the stricken area fills with people. Few survivors leave, and even obligatory evacuations are short-lived.
Myth: After a disaster, survivors tend to be dazed and apathetic.
Reality: Survivors rapidly start reconstruction. Activism is much more common than fatalism. (This is the so-called "therapeutic community.") Even in the worst scenarios, only 15% to 30% of victims show passive or dazed reactions.
Myth: Disasters usually give rise to widespread, spontaneous manifestations of antisocial behavior (riots).
Reality: Generally, disasters are characterized by great social solidarity, generosity, and self-sacrifice, perhaps even heroism.
Myth: Looting is a common and serious problem after disasters.
Reality: Looting is rare and limited in scope. It mainly occurs when there are strong preconditions, as when a community is already deeply divided.
Myth: The disruption and poor health caused by major disasters nearly always cause epidemics.
Reality: Generally, the level of epidemiological surveillance and health care in the disaster area is sufficient to stop epidemics from occurring. However, the rate of disease diagnosis may increase due to a temporary increase in the availability of health care.
Myth: Disasters cause a great deal of chaos, preventing systematic management.
Reality: There are excellent theoretical models of how disasters function and how to manage them. The general elements of disaster are well known from more than 75 years of research. The same events tend to repeat themselves from one disaster to the next.
Myth: To manage a disaster well, it is necessary to accept all forms of aid that are offered.
Reality: It is better to limit acceptance of donations to goods and services that are actually needed in the disaster area.
Myth: Any kind of aid and relief is useful after disasters, provided it is supplied quickly.
Reality: Hasty and ill-considered relief initiatives create chaos. Only certain types of assistance, goods, and services are required. Not all useful resources that existed in the area before the disaster will be destroyed. Donation of unusable materials or manpower consumes resources of organization and accommodation that could more profitably be used to reduce the toll of the disaster.
Myth: One should donate used clothes to the victims of disasters.
Reality: This often leads to accumulations of huge quantities of useless garments that victims cannot or will not wear.
Myth: Great quantities and assortments of medicines should be sent to disaster areas.
Reality: The only medicines that are needed are those that are used to treat specific pathologies, have not reached their sell-by date, can be properly conserved in the disaster area, and can be properly identified in terms of their pharmacological constituents. Any other medicines are not only useless but also potentially dangerous.
Myth: Companies, corporations, associations, and governments are always very generous when invited to send aid and relief to disaster areas.
Reality: They may be, but, in the past, disaster areas have been used as dumping grounds for outdated medicines, obsolete equipment, and unusable goods, usually garnering tax benefits for the donors, under the cloak of apparent generosity.
Myth: Unburied dead bodies constitute a health hazard.
Reality: Not even advanced decomposition causes a significant health hazard. Hasty burial demoralizes survivors and upsets arrangements for death certification, funeral rites, and, where needed, autopsy. The living rather than the dead are contagious.
Myth: Technology will save the world from disaster.
Reality: The problem of disasters is largely a social one. Technological resources are poorly distributed and often ineffectively used. In addition, technology is a potential source of vulnerability as well as a means of reducing it (e.g., computer crashes, power outages).
Myth: There is usually a shortage of resources when disasters occur, and this prevents them from being managed effectively.
Reality: The shortage, if it occurs, is almost always short-lived. There is more of a problem in deploying resources well and using them efficiently than in acquiring them. Often, there is also a problem of coping with a superabundance of certain types of resources.
Myth: International rescue workers save thousands of lives during the aftermath of natural disasters.
Reality: Lives are saved only during or immediately following the event. Search and rescue effectiveness declines rapidly after 12 to 24 hours.
Myth: Foreign-run field hospitals are the primary way to provide mass casualty treatment after disasters.
Reality: Local health care providers and systems provide most casualty management. Foreign workers often supply only ancillary help.