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Emergency Preparedness

Your Brain On Disaster

SALEM — You’re dumb during a disaster.

It’s not your fault. It’s your brain going into “survival mode” and shutting off higher function.

That’s according to Steven Eberlein, with the American Red Cross Cascades Region Foundation Partnership.

Eberlein was the main speaker for the Red Cross’ disaster preparedness presentation “Prepare Out Loud,” in Salem on Thursday.

His presentation thoroughly covered the subject of the expected Cascadia subduction zone earthquake, from the geology that creates the mega quakes to preparedness tips.

He also discussed how people behave during an earthquake.

He showed video clips of people in earthquake-aware Japan doing things that didn’t seem logical. Instead using “drop, cover and hold” to protect themselves, people were putting themselves in more danger by trying to hold up grocery store shelves or running from buildings.

Eberlein said the culprit is the brain’s “fight or flight” response and our tendency to follow what other people are doing in times of high stress.

The only way to overcome those sometimes detrimental instincts is to practice what you should do, he said. In other words, earthquake drills.

He acknowledges how silly that seems when Oregon doesn’t have that many earthquakes and “The Big One” may not happen for decades. Eberlein stresses doing it anyway.

“Eye roll your way through it,” Eberlein said.

He said practice still works even if you don’t take it as seriously as you should.

“We are not trying to make you smarter,” he said. “We are trying make your instincts better.”

Eberlein added another thing will help your state of mind in a disaster: preparing beforehand and remember items that will make a disaster situation seem normal — as much as possible, anyway.

“Comfort items — you need deodorant. You still are going to have to brush your teeth, even after Cascadia,” Eberlein said. “This is where you start to take control again and resume you’re your sense of normalcy, so don’t forget to put shampoo in your kit.”

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