WASHINGTON- Along with the reports of Tuesday’s horrific attacks on New York and Washington came other reports of Americans preparing for the worst by stockpiling food, water, weapons and other emergency supplies.
Though it may seem irrational, experts say, such binge buying is a logical response.
“Whenever there is a catastrophe of any kind, there can be sort of a mass hysteria,” said Wes Patterson, a psychologist in private practice in Miami. “They over-react — they think there could be war or more disaster, so they run out and buy food, buy guns, because they are literally terrified. But of course nothing else is going to happen.”
Military surplus stores in Maryland reported a brisk business Tuesday in survival gear, with some selling out of gas masks, and gun shops saw an increase in gun and ammunition sales in the days following the attack.
Maryland groceries experienced a rush of “panic buyers” stocking up on the essentials Tuesday afternoon, with some stores reporting as many as 100 shoppers at a time, with long check-out lines and shortages of carts.
“I don’t think that to have a reasonable supply of food and water is hysterical at all,” said Glenn Schiraldi, doctor of stress management and an expert on post-traumatic stress at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“In fact, I think it’s a wise idea to have a cushion, set a net for yourself for not just this situation, but for any situation that may arise,” he said.
The Maryland Energy Administration and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran warned against gasoline price gouging in Maryland, after published reports said some gas stations in the Midwest raised prices sharply in response to long lines in the hours after the attacks.
Panic buying and stockpiling may look irrational at one level, but it is not hysterical, said Patricia Erickson, director of criminal justice and a sociology professor at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y. She said people panic- buy because they do not know the extent of the threat and some people are just preparing for the worst.
“They may believe it’s not over so they attempt to get control, and one of the ways to get control is to make sure you have enough food, enough weapons,” she said.
“The reality is that we don’t really have any control. At the moment, that control is in the hands of the government,” Erickson said.
She said she noticed more people than usual in the grocery store Thursday, but they were not stockpiling. Erickson said people have the same response to threatening weather, but after a few days, the stockpiling/panic buying stops.
“Unless we have some huge economic problem or there is a repetition of the terrorism, panic buying should stop within a few days,” she said.
Garret Evans, a clinical psychologist at the University of Florida, agreed that binge buyers do not need to be embarrassed.
“I think people are trying to be prepared as they can for something that happened out of nowhere,” Evans said. “No, they are not irrational responses – just people trying to adjust and cope with something that is almost unimaginable tragedy.
“We would be concerned if people were standing on their rooftops with guns — that would be irrational,” he said.