Yesterday I wrote about the recent storms in the southeastern portion of the United States. The violent storm that hit Joplin, Missouri, killed an estimated 142 people. What we know about this storm and this city is that twenty-minute sirens went off warning people to flee to cover. Many did flee but some waited. Why did these people wait?

William Donner, an environmental sociologist at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, says, “Research generally shows that folks are in denial that a tornado is going to harm them.” I have to confess I know this to be true personally. Why? When the sirens have gone off in my neighborhood, and my wife heads for the basement, I have stayed on the upper level watching a baseball game or working away. I have said, more than once, “I don’t think this is the big one. I’ll be safe.” When I told her I was going to write this she said, “Will you listen to me next time?” My answer was a humble, simple one: “Yes, I will dear.”

dangersign A disaster researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory conducted a survey of more than 600 people in Oklahoma, Kansas, Minnesota, Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama who lived in areas struck by tornadoes in 2008 and 2009. When asked whether or not they took action to protect themselves, their families or their property, 59% said yes. But a full 41% said no. 40% took shelter when they heard the warning but 11% wanted more information. 2% called others and 6% protected private goods. 5% did nothing.

We know that waiting for a tornado to appear wastes precious seconds that can save your life. The average lead time from warning to touch down is 13 minutes according to the National Weather Service. Part of the reason for waiting could be that in 2007 the false alarm rate was as high as 75%.

I reflected on this when I read about it and concluded that some of us simply will not heed warnings. Most people do not think about death, as one obvious example, until they are about to die. Why? They know the rates for mortality are 100% but they wait. They have no will, no insurance, no plan for others they love who will be left behind. They live in a kind of “denial” about themselves and their demise. This seems to be human nature. Maybe it is one way of coping with pain and life. But it is not wise.

I also thought about Harold Camping again. (Man, I wish I could just forget about him.) The more “false alarms” people get the more they ignore serious alarms. The danger to the church, and even the world, of people like Harold Camping is that they have sounded the alarm one time too many. Now the world mocks and scorns all the more.

When the next siren goes off will you be prepared to take action? When the sirens of your conscience go off will you seek the Lord or wait for another day?

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  1. Matt Scott June 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Living less than 3 hours away from Joplin had a very profound effect on me and my faith.
    In the days following that tornado, we experienced multiple tornado warnings. I believe my wife and coworkers were worried more about my sanity than the tornado, but somehow in my mind a link between future death and my present reality had been made that I’d never experienced before…and I realized that I’m very afraid to die.
    Lord increase my faith!
    Your friend from Kansas City,
    Matt Scott

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