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We’re in this together: Group dynamics in disaster scenarios

Whether it’s George Romero’s classic “Night of the Living Dead” or AMC’s ratings juggernaut “The Walking Dead,” there is a common element in zombie apocalypse fiction and that’s the fact that people survive better in groups, but not all groups work.

The reason some groups do better than other is largely due to organization. An emergency situation does not bring people together for a common goal; rather, the more difficult and disordered the situation, the greater are the disorganized group’s problems.

Group Morale

High morale must come from internal cohesiveness and not merely through external pressure. The moods and attitudes can become wildly contagious. Looking at Night of the Living Dead as an example, there are two dominate figures who are at odds with each other. Their anger and hostility at each other divide the group and contribute to its failure.

Conscious well-planned organization and leadership on the basis of delegated or shared responsibility often can prevent panic. Think about the Walking Dead season 3 for this one. Rick’s group was a pretty well-oiled machine at this time. When they stormed Woodbury, the Governor had fighters, but most of his people were just running around in panic. They didn’t have a role in this scenario and had no idea what to do.

High group morale has many advantages. First, the individual feels strengthened and protected since he realizes that his survival depends on others whom he trusts. In addition, the group can meet failure with greater persistence. Finally, the group can formulate goals to help each other face the future.

Factors that Influence Group Survival

There are numerous factors that will influence whether a group can successfully survive. Of primary importance is the organization of manpower. Organized action is important to keep all members of the group briefed; this way the members of the group will know what to do and when to do it, both under ordinary circumstances and in emergencies. Beyond this, the group must make selective use of personnel. In well-organized groups, the person often does the job that most closely fits their personal qualifications.

Group leaders can increase their group’s chance of success if they accept suggestion and criticisms. While leaders must accept responsibility for the final decision, they must also able to recognize the importance of input from those whom they lead. Going once more to The Walking Dead, we’ve seen over the seasons that it isn’t always easy for Rick to take advice from other people, although he has at times tried hard to get input.

Groups must also act quickly to follow orders as on-the-spot decisions that must be acted upon immediately usually determines survival success.  Someone in the group should also be given responsibility for maintaining an inventory of items on hand and collected over time as a failure to check equipment can result in failure to survive.

The final factor effecting a group’s chance of survival are the knowledge and skills each person brings to the group. To use the old saying, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

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