Dealing with yet another state of emergency
We experienced a flood, cyclone and an earthquake, all in the last few weeks. To say it has been a hectic time is to wildly understate the amount of chaos that has been unleashed upon us lately.
We’ve all seen the different ways people have been affected by the flooding, from the heartbreaking losses of family members, to those that had to evacuate their homes for several weeks. Of course, many of us were very lucky to escape Gabrielle’s rage, experiencing minor inconveniences like periodic power cuts, or a damaged garden.
In either case, both the floods and the cyclone presented a rather interesting look into how we all react to states of emergency. Everyone had different preparation tactics and coping mechanisms. There was certainly a wide range of reactions, from flat out panic in public, to mockery and jokes on digital platforms. However, there were also types of behaviour that most of us would have exhibited before, during, or after the floods and the cyclone.
One behaviour that was strikingly obvious and unanimous in the days leading up to the cyclone was the panic shopping. The Saturday night before Gabrielle hit was especially chaotic. It was inevitable that every Countdown, New World, and Pak n Save you went to would have a small army of people either searching frantically for their essentials, or lined up across the self-checkout machines. Not to mention the dozens of shelves that had been left with few items, if any.
It goes without saying that this would have triggered our Covid-19 nostalgia. The last-minute frantic shopping and anxious energy in the supermarkets didn’t feel foreign. After speaking to a staff member at a Countdown in East Auckland, it’s apparent that people’s behaviour during states of emergencies tend to follow a specific rhythm.
He said that after working through the pandemic and the recent cyclone, he noticed that when catastrophe ensues, people cling to objects and survival kits, instead of appreciating the people they love, or the blessings they have. In a way, this is everyone’s method of gaining control over situations that were so clearly out of control.
The Countdown staff member then went on to joke and say that if aliens were to discover our planet after these natural disasters wipe us out, they would find a lot of toilet paper rolls and egg cartons, which are always the first products to disappear when disaster hits—there is only guessing what they will think of us. He then said that this panic was followed by three or four days of eerie silence at supermarkets, before things quickly went back to normal. Using panic shopping as a coping mechanism is reflective of the way our fear often accumulates and lashes out in one go, until we quickly realise this is not a way to live and begin adapting in a calmer manner.
Of course, as anxious as people were and as serious as conditions became, it didn’t stop the hundreds of memes and reels being made to mock this state of emergency. Almost all of us would have encountered at least one or two TikToks showing people swimming, diving, or kayaking through the flooded streets, with a caption that read something along the lines of “Kiwis during the flood…”
And let’s not forget the many memes on pages like @kiwis.relate, that posted new content to match any new cyclone or government update, such as the changes in alert levels or the movement of the cyclone across the North Island. Going through the comment sections, it seemed that people were using the platform as a way of venting out their anxiety. One person commented on a @kiwis.relate post saying: “We’re just waiting for Lake Taupo to erupt now.” Another wrote: “I’m currently watching the river level next to my house rise as I type this.” It’s quite clear that these jokes being sent around online were not made to undermine the situation, but to give people a breather from the more frightening images of the weather emergency on the news.
This is not to say that these online platforms always generated the healthiest of discussions or content. For the most part, they provided a space for New Zealanders to let out their frustration in the many states of emergencies we have endured over the last few years. The contrast between the anxiety driven panic we saw at supermarkets, and the light-hearted content on social media isn’t as different as it seems. Both the panic shopping and sarcastic media content are reactions to the uncertainty of nature, whether this be a natural disaster or a disease.
The hyper-preparation and panic buying has been people’s initial instinct reaction as it is their way of springing into action for the sake of their personal survival. As hectic and extreme as it can get, it is human nature to panic during what we feel could be a life threatening situation. On the other hand, the satire is done not so much for the sake of survival but to create a sense of community in order for people to feel less alone. Of course, there are always negatives to social media activity, but overall, it gives people a platform to discuss what is happening around them, as well as approach natural disasters more light-heartedly and not negatively fixate on the problem.
The last three or four years, and the recent flooding in particular, have shown us that when it comes to coping with natural forces, we often resort to a heightened level of fear. Although a certain level of fear and anxiety is completely justified, preemptively resorting to taking extreme precautions may not be the healthiest way to go about dealing with any kind of emergency. Panic-buying, for example, has resulted in people buying far more than they need and leaving very little for those who might actually be in need. That is why having a long term plan rather than a last minute scramble for supplies, is more beneficial for your safety as well as the safety of others.
It might be better for us to use this time not so much as a reason to panic buy all the eggs and toilet rolls in the supermarket, but as a reason to remember what it is, we appreciate in our lives. This could be anything from family and friends, to our education and freedom. These aspects of our lives should be the elements we remember, try to protect, or resort to for comfort during any kind of disaster.