Coping from Effects of Natural Disasters and Technological Catastrophe

Part of environmental psychology is also to deal with the way people cope and behave in disasters. Disasters often happen uninformed and this special characteristic of disaster has a huge impact on human beings not only physically but also psychologically.

Disasters can be natural (natural disasters) or caused due to human error (technological catastrophe). Natural disasters occur from natural forces which are not under human control; however their severity might vary due to human induced changes. These natural disasters must cause death or damage before they are seen as disasters e.g. an earthquake hitting an uninhabited area may cause no damage or lose and therefore may not be considered as a disaster. However, technological catastrophes are caused due to miscalculations or errors made by human’s e.g. nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

As the disaster occurs, every individual behaves differently and they mostly display three common behaviors:

  • Run and hide: this behavior is mostly shown if there is prior warning of the upcoming disaster
  • Stay and watch: this type of behavior frequently shows up if the disasters was uninformed
  • Other negative and positive behaviors depend upon the situation.

A study by Fritz and Marks (1954) concluded that only 10% of the respondents reported to experience panic and that was to escape the immediate danger.

Factors affecting behavior during disaster:

  • Duration of event: the longer the event, the greater the exposure to threat
  • Low Point: when the survivors realize that the worst is over, they are better able to cope and might even start to help out others.
  • Warning: giving warnings with littler time to react creates panic

After disaster has struck, it is very important to instruct people immediately to take actions that could save lives and help themselves better understand the situation. Survivors can help each other and themselves out by adopting the following strategies to help cope from the stress:

  • Emotion focused coping: by attending counseling sessions with the therapist
  • Problem focused coping: do something practical to improve the situation
  • Denial:  to deny the situation temporarily to reduce feeling of stress

Often after disaster, individuals may feel stressed for prolonged periods; they may be experiencing an anxiety disorder due to trauma called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

For survivors experiencing PTSD following are a few ways to help them cope better:

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT): this technique involves teaching relaxation techniques and to connect and develop patterns of behavior from painful thoughts in an attempt to alter the persons mental processes. According to McNally, Bryant and Ehler (2003), CBT delivered up to 3 months shows promising results and promotes recovery from trauma.
  • Behavior Therapy: this technique includes desensitizing the survivor by repeatedly exposing him/her to various stimuli which cause panic

It is not only important to help the survivors to cope from their physical environment and rebuild their homes for them but it is also important to help them cope emotionally and psychological so they can carry out their normal functioning.

The article is written by “Shumaila Javed Bhatti”, senior author at

About Shumaila Javed Bhatti

• Minister Environment for Peace Parliament Pakistan (2011) • Chief Editor Environmental Watch Pakistan • Chairperson Environmental Watch Forum Pakistan • Information Secretary Green Society International Islamic University • Ambassador WWF-Pakistan • Senior Author at • Freelance Columnist student at International Islamic University Islambad

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