Book Review: “The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare for Disasters”
This week is the national hurricane preparation week. Hurricane season begins on June 1. Get ready now!
Recently, I read a book titled “The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare for Disasters.” The ostrich paradox is a clunky title if you ask me. The main point is that the flightless ostrich, with its head buried in the sand, seems like the butt of a disaster preparedness joke. But, actually, the ostrich uses its speed to escape disasters and survive. Comparatively, all human beings possess cognitive biases related to risk assessment. These biases help us to not go crazy when making tiny choices. But when it comes to hurricane season, they can be fatal during catastrophic storms. The authors suggest that by recognizing and remedying these cognitive shortcomings, we are actually becoming more like the over-compensating ostrich, not less—hence the paradox. Like I said, it’s clunky.
So, what are these cognitive biases that we all harbor?
- Myopia: “a tendency to focus on overly short future time horizons when appraising immediate costs and the potential benefits of protective investments.”
- Amnesia: “a tendency to forget too quickly the lessons of past disasters.”
- Optimism: “a tendency to underestimate the likelihood that less will occur from future hazards.”
- Inertia: “a tendency to maintain the status quo or adopt a default option when there is uncertainty about the potential benefits of investing in alternative protective measures.”
- Simplification: “a tendency to selective attend to only a subset of the relevant factors to consider when making choices involving risk”; and
- Herding: “a tendency to base choices on the observed actions of others.”
Here’s a personal anecdote about my experience with myopia. When I bought my first home it didn’t have any wind protection on the windows. In South Florida, that means high home insurance premiums. My agent said that I would save $2,500 a year by replacing my windows and doors with impact glass, which would cost about $15,000. As I’m sure you guessed, every year I put it off. By the time I sold the house I would’ve saved $12,500 in premiums, plus the increase in value to the home would mean I would get a return on my investment. Oh, not to mention, my family would have been SAFE. But that’s myopia for you.
Don’t be myopic. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Start protecting yourself and your family this week so that you’re ready by June 1!
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