Natural disasters make human errors more likely

Researchers have found that humans are more prone to making mistakes in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Whilst previous research suggests this happens after man-made disasters – for example, leading to an increased number of fatal car accidents – no research had before looked at natural disasters until the 2010 earthquake that hit Christchurch, New Zealand, presented researchers with an unexpected opportunity.

Participants who became anxious after the disaster displayed increased reaction times than normal, but made a larger number of mistakes.  Those who became depressed had slower reaction times than normal.

“These findings also suggest that police, emergency responders, and others working in the aftermath of the disaster may also experience cognitive disruption, which can interfere with their ability to perform rescue-related tasks.”

Although based on a single study, these findings may be relevant to those working in the energy and allied process industries, particularly when planning emergency responses, however further research may be needed.

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