Thursday, September 8, 2022

The preparedness paradox

Today I learned about something called the "preparedness paradox," which means preparing for a danger (an epidemic, natural disaster, etc.) can keep people from being harmed by that danger. Since people didn't see negative consequences from the danger, they wrongly conclude that the danger wasn't bad to start with.

I had never heard of this paradox before, but I told Don the first thing that came to mind was the economic crash of 2008. It entirely passed us by. In fact, I was inclined to dismiss its impact since we weren't affected. It really wasn't until much later that I realized how bad it was and how many people were financially devastated.

Breezing through 2008 wasn't a "planned" thing for us; it just happened. There were a number of factors behind this, the two primary ones being (a) we had several diverse work-from-home income streams, so we weren't financially affected; and (b) we had low living expenses due to an extremely frugal lifestyle.

Here's another example of the Preparedness Paradox. Don mentioned a friend of his who worked in the tech sector during the Y2K scare. So many people mocked Y2K as a big "nothing burger," but this tech friend absolutely disagreed. He said they did  a lot of controlled test runs on their legacy systems and they crashed big-time. Had that frantic work not taken place, the results would have been devastating for their large company and a lot of other tech firms. But since those not directly involved in the tech sector were largely unaware of the behind-the-scenes activity, they wrongly concluded Y2K was No Big Deal.

The Wikipedia article uses the example of levees: "Levees are structures which run parallel to rivers and are meant to offer protection from flooding. Paradoxically, their construction leads to a reduced awareness of and preparation for floods or breaches. The perception of safety also leads to unsafe land development in the floodplain which is supposed to be protected by the levee. Consequently, when a flood does occur or the levee breaches, the effects of that disaster will be greater than if the levee had not been built."

Needless to say, the "Preparedness Paradox" is not something to feel smug about. In fact, it's just the opposite: It's a warning not to get too complacent about one's situation.

I find this whole "Preparedness Paradox" an interesting concept. Everyone should make an effort to have, already in place, the necessary responses to the natural disasters to which their area is prone (wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, etc.). It's better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. But does doing so make us less likely to anticipate and therefore handle an emergency?

Have you fallen prey to the Preparedness Paradox? If so, how?


  1. In the 60's I was stationed in Mississippi and we had a major hurricane come through. There were a number of locals who chose to have "hurricane parties" instead of evacuating the coastal areas. In one of those cases the house they partied in was gone the next morning with most of the extended family missing or dead. The reason was they went through so many hurricanes that didn't destroy their house that it came to be the expectation that this new hurricane wouldn't either in spite of the dire warnings. It's a learning process and some don't learn.

  2. I passed through the '08 crash without being severely affected because I was already living an extremely frugal lifestyle. This current crash is hitting us much harder because the basics of life are costing a lot more. Even being frugal as heck, we are running into problems.

    The Y2K, I already knew from people around me, that it was taking a lot of work to make sure that systems didn't crash. At the same time, that knowledge was kind of reassuring because it meant that the only places that "should" crash would be ones that didn't do system updates or work arounds. And no one, absolutely no one, wanted to be the IT people that hadn't fixed the problem beforehand.

  3. The first week of July in 1997 the State agency for which I worked suddenly had over 70,000 Medicaid vendors inactivated. After researching the problem, we discovered that our legacy computer systems were programmed to add 30 months to the vendors' last date of activity, and if that date was before today's date, they were inactivated.
    The old mainframes only used two digits for the year, so July 1, 1997 plus 30 months equaled year 00. We had a problem! We started throwing money at the problem, and by the time Y2K came, we had the problem mostly fixed. Nothing apparently happened, so people said Y2K was a bust. Not so! It was a major issue, we just fixed it before it happened.

    1. IIRC, that crash is why Y2K was repaired in time. It made a lot of people realized that there was a very real problem that needed to be fixed.
      And while I'm pretty sure that it panicked a lot of people when it occurred in '97, it was better to be discovered than rather than later.

    2. My husband was also working frantically in his job of computer programming to fix the Y2K problem. 1998 and 99 was our first major foray into prepping. It changed our mindset, even though we were so relieved that nothing major happened for Year 2000.

  4. We are currently living in an illustration of the Preparedness Paradox taken to the extreme.

    We should always be mindful of what CAN happen and be prepared for it; complacency is the enemy.

    We should also be mindful that, just because something seems like just another Tuesday to US, it isn’t so for the masses with whom government must deal on a daily basis.

    This is a good reason to quietly and logically encourage preparedness and the teaching thereof, and also to be leery of the conspiracy theories that seem so logically obvious to us.

    Never assume conspiracy when the consequences of foolishness are a simpler explanation. The real problem we must fight is complacency and the human tendency to take the status quo for granted.