By Sam Schanfarber
Close your eyes and flash back five years to Hurricane Katrina. Picture the chaos, panic, and sheer destruction you witnessed on your television. Our nation tuned in as the storm unleashed her full force on New Orleans, destroying their homes and lives, while the government was doing very little to aid them. Inspired by their plight, millions, including me, donated to relief efforts like The Red Cross. As a result, however, well-intentioned relief organizations now know how to exploit a population’s weakness—panic—and are not afraid to use it.
This year, as Hurricane Earl crept up the Eastern Seaboard, the hundreds of well-meaning relief foundations and emergency product suppliers suddenly saw an opportunity to rake in donations—or profits—via panic. Millions of dollars poured into The Red Cross, and households spent even more on ridiculously unnecessary items like emergency generators and bottled water. While the fundraising organizations may have meant well, they made it seem as if we were simultaneously awaiting a tsunami, hurricane, and a devastating blizzard. Five days later, birds chirped over the hum of 400-watt diesel generators.
By exploiting natural disasters, companies have found a way to create a buzz big enough to attract spenders. After observing the consequences of inadequate preparation during Katrina, thousands of frenzied citizens purchased supplies by the dozens. While the money donated to relief organizations this fall was probably money well spent in the long run, using the hurricanes as motivation was still morally corrupt and wrong on many levels. Fomenting false panic to generate a profit is arguably the zenith of wrongdoing, and is in no way acceptable.
However, we are partly to blame. We are, after all, the ones who donated our pocket change to The Red Cross as if we were purchasing Hurricane Insurance. We’re the ones who needlessly helped carry three cases of Aquafina to the car. We’re the ones who followed the hurricane watch like it was the O.J. Simpson trial (the first one). We East Coasters showed everyone that we not only know how to prepare but also become overly fearful of natural disasters. As a population, we demonstrated how to be wooed by shaky-voiced news anchors and well-spoken supplies salesmen. Hopefully, the next hurricane won’t leave us with $2,500 worth of freeze-dried meals.