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Anger after the storm

Sometimes tempers fray in the days after a disaster. With power cuts, flooding, disrupted transport and fuel shortages, that's hardly surprising. Use this photo of a petrol station incident after hurricane Sandy to explore potential queue rage.

The challenge for students is to identify what might escalate the anger and what might reduce it. There's also a chance to get some perspective. How much do such quarrels matter? How does the amount of post-storm rage stack up against the co-operation and acts of humanity?

Quarrels in a queue

Say to students that they are about to see a picture of something that often happens in the days after a natural disaster. The scene is New York, three days after superstorm Sandy hit the city.

Show the photograph, available in a powerpoint, and invite responses. What particular aftermath of a disaster does it show? After discussion, say that it shows people arguing as they queue for petrol, some for over two hours, in New York city on 1 November 2012. Disruption to the supply of basic goods and services is a common feature of disasters. One owner of a fuel station said he turned off the pumps and called the police when customers' tempers rose. New Yorkers were also struggling with power outages and suspended flights and rail services.

Focus on the emotion. How easy is it to photograph the anger and tension in that petrol station? Why did the photographer choose this woman to portray the emotion? Does the picture communicate well? 

Do students think anger is something that you show on the surface, or something that happens inside you? Talk about how easy or difficult it is to know if someone you are with is angry. What are the signs? How do you know whether you yourself are angry? 

Experts say that we do not all respond the same way when we feel angry. Talk about what makes a difference to the way people express feelings. Include gender and culture as well as personal past experiences and how other people are responding. Which factors do students think are most influential?

Try to create a checklist of signs of high emotion. Here the woman is gesturing to make a point, and she seems to be shouting. Add to the list things that students know from their own experience, such as: 

  • heart beating faster
  • breathing shallower
  • head swirling
  • concentration difficult
  • body tense
  • hands sweaty.

These physical and physiological states are hard to control. They tend to prevent people being calm and thoughtful. Invite students to say what this means when meeting someone who is angry.   

Note: the teacher briefing on defusing conflict has more on the physical effects of anger.

By the end of the activity students will be able to describe some of the key physical and physiological states connected with anger.

What happened next?

Invite students to sketch out a frame-by-frame story based on what might have happened at the petrol station. Use the photograph as the story's opening frame, or a later one. Working in groups, students could draw their ideas of what happened next, write dialogue and captions, and even pose for it and photograph it.

Begin by thinking about what the woman is saying and thinking. Is she requesting or explaining something? Might someone have said something to her that she thinks is unfair or unreasonable?

Six or eight frames should be enough to tell a dramatic story. Consider assigning a different brief to different groups. Ask some to devise a story that escalates the quarrel and others one that calms things down. 

Scrutinise the results. What do they have in common? Can students identify what inflames a situation and what calms it? 

Note: for more tips on calming a situation, see the teacher briefing on defusing conflict.

By the end of the activity students will be able to say what kinds of activity or behaviour are likely to escalate tension and what might reduce it.

What would help?

There's a simple explanation for this row on a petrol forecourt. It is that too many people are after a scarce commodity. Does that mean it is inevitable that there will be expressions of temper and squabbles? Is it realistic to try to eradicate them? Would it be better to aim for something more achievable, such as trying to make sure that no one is seriously injured? 

Test students’ attitudes and approaches by getting them, in groups if appropriate, to evaluate one or more of the following options for action. For each they should identify pros and cons and then say whether, on balance, they would recommend it.   

Ideas for quarrel reduction:

  • Bring the police in to keep order.
  • Offer people tea and encourage them to chat to their neighbours in the queue.
  • Stop selling petrol until people agree to calm down and stop arguing.
  • Ignore it. Accept that arguments happen. People will get over it.  
  • Let people travel free on buses so they don't need their own vehicle.
  • Identify the ‘winning’ idea. Encourage students to develop ways to improve on it or come up with something completely different and better.

By the end of the activity students will be able to describe the pros and cons of a variety of approaches to reducing conflict in a tense situation.

Where did Sandy go?

Hurricane Sandy, later dubbed superstorm Sandy, was one of the more severe storms in recent times. It began to make headlines worldwide when it approached the USA. But it had already done extensive damage in other countries. Can students name them? Answers: Jamaica; Cuba; Haiti.

There were also deaths and damage to property in Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. 

Read these summaries for a bit of background.

  • In Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the region, floods took away topsoil and fruit trees. Plantations of corn, beans, sorghum, pigeon peas, bananas, tubers, peanuts, vegetables and rice were destroyed or badly damaged by wind and water. Food is going to be even harder to get for many.
  • In Cuba, thousands of families lost their homes and livelihoods. There is a growing need for basic shelter, such as roofing materials and tarpaulins. Aid agencies are also supplying hygiene kits, kitchen sets, mattresses and bed sheets.
    Spend some time thinking about these realities. Then ask students to write a message of support to someone in one of the countries above. Think of the kind of thing you might write on a website or on someone's social media page, or what you might text to them. Is what they would say to someone in Haiti or Cuba, for example, similar or different from what they would write to someone in the USA? If so, why?

By the end of the activity students will be able to write a short message of support to someone affected by a hurricane.

Co-operation breaks out

After a natural disaster involving extensive damage, injury and loss of life, followed by evacuations, shortages and disruption, it is not surprising that arguments break out. 

But that is not the whole story. After such devastation people also work together. They look out for ways to help each other and find community answers to problems.

Ask students to find evidence for this relating to hurricane Sandy, researching online or perhaps through library newspaper collections. What examples can they find of people putting their own needs to one side to help others who are more vulnerable or in greater need? Do not look only at events in USA, but include Cuba and Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean.

By the end of the activity students will be able to give specific examples of ways that people help each other in the aftermath of a disaster.


Related resources

  • A hurricane is approaching. Residents are ordered to evacuate. What if you just stayed at home? Follow what happened to one man who did with the hurricane Katrina lesson plan.
  • For a helpful introduction to cooling tension see the defusing conflict briefing, specially written for teachers. It was produced in conjunction with Dfuse. For more activities on anger and defusing conflict see the teaching resources produced by Dfuse.


Defusing conflict

Two young people have a violent confrontation

Avoid an awkward confrontation which could involve hurtful words or physical violence. Here's how.

Read the briefing >

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