Panic button hesitation


Don't wait until it's too late

The choice to activate a fire alarm, summon an ambulance, visit a medical professional, or trigger a panic button is shaped by various social, cognitive, and environmental determinants. As an individual mulls over the numerous factors that affect their readiness to seek aid, precious time is lost. Unfortunately, hesitation may have irreversible consequences. So, what causes many people to delay action until it’s too late?

Why people delay

The psychology behind delayed calls for help is multifaceted and complex. Individuals navigate a web of internal and external factors that shape their decision-making process. The following factors can contribute to why people hesitate to take action:

Fear of Consequences: People might fear the potential consequences of taking action, especially if it turns out to be a false alarm. They may worry about getting into trouble or facing social backlash for causing unnecessary panic or disruption.

Evaluation Apprehension: Individuals may hesitate because they worry about how others will perceive their actions. They might fear being judged negatively or ridiculed for overreacting or causing a scene.

Diffusion of Responsibility: When many people are around, individuals might assume that someone else will take action. Each person may think that someone else will take action.

Bystander Effect: Related to the diffusion of responsibility, the bystander effect suggests that individuals are less likely to take action in the presence of others. People might hesitate to take action if everyone seems calm and no one else is taking action.

Lack of Clarity: Sometimes, people hesitate because they’re unsure whether the situation warrants action. They might question whether they’re overreacting or misinterpreting the situation, especially if there are no signs of danger.

Social Influence: People are influenced by the behavior of those around them. If others are not reacting or seem unconcerned, individuals may hesitate to act themselves, assuming there’s no real danger.

Cost-Benefit Analysis: Some individuals might consciously or unconsciously weigh the perceived benefits of action. (potentially saving lives) against the perceived costs (potential embarrassment, inconvenience), leading to hesitation.

Lack of Training or Awareness: In environments where people are not adequately trained, individuals may hesitate because they’re unsure what to do or don’t recognize the situation’s urgency.

There are numerous scenarios in which urgent action is delayed or avoided. The most common examples are fire alarm hesitation, patient delay syndrome, and panic button hesitation.

Fire alarm hesitation

Fire alarm hesitation refers to the reluctance or delay in pulling a fire alarm or calling 911 during an emergency. Individuals may hesitate to call for help because they perceive the situation as less severe than it actually is. They might underestimate the potential danger or believe that someone else will take action. Or there may be a fear of negative consequences associated with pulling the fire alarm, such as getting in trouble for causing a disruption or facing social backlash for overreacting.

Patient delay syndrome

Patient delay syndrome is when individuals delay seeking medical attention for symptoms or conditions that may require prompt treatment. This delay can have serious consequences, including worsening the condition, complications, and poorer outcomes. Patient delay syndrome is commonly observed in medical emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes. Despite experiencing symptoms, individuals may rationalize their decision to delay seeking assistance, whether due to denial, fear, or a perceived lack of urgency.

Panic button hesitation

Panic button hesitation refers to the delay or reluctance that may occur before pressing a panic button. In hospital settings, panic button hesitation has significant implications for the safety of nurses and other frontline staff. These people are at risk of violence from hostile patients, family members, or other visitors. This sort of violence, type II violence, is very easy to de-escalate if help is summoned at the first sign of aggressiveness. Unfortunately, nurses and other frontline staff may be hesitant to trigger panic alarms because they fear the consequences or don’t want to appear incapable of handling problems on their own.

What is the solution?

Reducing patient delay syndrome, panic button hesitation, and fire alarm hesitation requires a combination of education and technology to promote quick and appropriate responses to emergencies:

Education: Implement educational programs to raise awareness about the importance of swift action in emergencies. Teach individuals to recognize the signs and symptoms of medical emergencies, properly use panic alarms in threatening situations, and the importance of calling first responders without hesitation. Education should also emphasize the potential consequences of delay and the benefits of prompt action in mitigating harm.

Training: Provide regular training sessions for the general public and specific groups such as healthcare workers, security personnel, and building occupants. These sessions should cover emergency response protocols, evacuation procedures, and the use of technology such as panic alarms, de-escalation technology, and fire alarm systems. Practical simulations and drills can help reinforce learning and prepare individuals to respond effectively in real emergencies.

Community Engagement: Engage stakeholders, such as citizens, employees, healthcare professionals, and emergency responders, in collaborative efforts to improve emergency preparedness and response. Establish communication channels to share emergency management and technology-related information, best practices, and resources.

Panic Alarms: Implement panic alarm systems with features such as a de-escalation button, one-touch activation, discreet signaling, and accurate location identification to facilitate early intervention in threatening situations. Integration with security systems and mobile devices can enhance responsiveness and coordination among responders.

Fire Alarm Systems: Install advanced fire alarm systems with features like multi-sensor detection, automated alerts, and remote monitoring capabilities. Integration with building management systems can facilitate rapid evacuation procedures and provide real-time information to emergency responders.

Telemedicine and Remote Monitoring: Leverage telemedicine platforms and remote monitoring technologies to enable early detection and intervention in medical emergencies. These solutions allow healthcare providers to remotely assess patients’ conditions, provide timely guidance, and coordinate emergency medical services as needed.

Mobile Apps and Alerts: Develop mobile applications and notification systems that deliver timely alerts and emergency instructions to individuals in crisis situations. These apps can provide location-based information, emergency contacts, and step-by-step guidance for responding to various emergencies.

By combining education and technology, communities and organizations can empower individuals to recognize emergencies, overcome hesitation, and take swift, effective action to mitigate risks and ensure safety. Ongoing evaluation and refinement of emergency response strategies based on feedback and lessons learned are essential for continuous improvement and resilience in the face of evolving threats. 

So, if you see something, say something

“See Something, Say Something” originated as a central part of an initiative to encourage people to act promptly instead of delaying action. It first emerged with the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority following the 9/11 terror incidents and has since become widely used in conversations about social vigilance and safety. The motto represents the effort by authorities to educate the community on the significance of reporting irregularities despite doubts about their severity or nature. Understanding the reasons why individuals may hesitate to ask for help is crucial for facilitating better outcomes.