At what stage in a disaster do people stop helping each other?

Bob Mayer
3 min readAug 10, 2023



As with every possible disaster, there are a number of variables to consider, thus one answer doesn’t fit all. But I’m trying to give you an idea of the warning signs of the point at which people stop helping each other during a disaster. And after that, they turn on each other. It varies widely based on factors such as the severity of the disaster, the resilience of the affected community, available resources, and the duration of the crisis. Generally, there isn’t a specific stage at which people definitively stop helping each other, but there are some trends and considerations to keep in mind:

1. **Initial Response Phase:** During the immediate aftermath of a disaster, there’s often a strong surge of community solidarity and people coming together to help one another. This can be due to the shock of the event, a sense of urgency, and the natural human inclination to assist those in need.

2. **Resource Depletion:** As time goes on and resources become scarcer, the willingness and ability to help will decline. People may have their own needs to attend to, and if they are struggling to secure necessities for themselves and their families, their capacity to assist others might decrease.

3. **Compassion Fatigue:** Individuals, especially first responders and volunteers, may experience compassion fatigue or burnout over time. Constant exposure to distressing situations can take a toll on mental and emotional well-being, potentially reducing the willingness to continue helping. One of the best ways to measure this is to listen in on emergency radio channels. There’s a free app to do that, which I link to in my Apps presentation and in my survival guide.

4. **Lack of Outside Support:** If a disaster persists for an extended period and external support is slow to arrive or insufficient, it can strain the local community’s ability to sustain relief efforts. This can lead to a gradual reduction in assistance as local resources become exhausted. This is key. How widespread is the disaster? We have not really experienced a nation-wide disaster, other than COVID and we handled that extremely poorly. Almost always, we count on assistance coming in from outside the disaster area. But in a wide-spread disaster it’s a very, very different scenario. This is something to pay attention right from the start. One of my maxims is expect to self-rescue. For example, if there is a massive solar flare that wipes out the entire power grid, right from the start, things are going to be bad.

5. **Disruption of Social Order:** In some cases, the breakdown of social order due to an extreme disaster can lead to conflicts, looting, and a deterioration of the willingness to help as people become focused on their own survival. A big one here is trash pick up. When the trash isn’t being picked up, things are getting bad. Speaking from experience with a father who worked 35 years for the Sanitation Department of New York City, the cops and firefighters can strike, but what gets everyone’s attention is when the garbagemen strike.

6. **Isolation and Desperation:** If a disaster leads to isolation and a lack of communication, people might not be aware of others who need help, or they might be too preoccupied with their own struggles to reach out and assist.

It’s important to note that these are general trends, and there are countless examples of communities that have continued to help each other even in the face of extreme adversity. Human behavior is complex and influenced by a wide range of factors. While there may be instances where helping behavior declines, there are also many instances where people’s resilience, compassion, and community spirit persist throughout a disaster and its aftermath.

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Bob Mayer

West Point grad; Special Ops Vet; NY Times bestseller of over 80 books; for free books and over 200 free downloadable slideshows go to