What do you call an event where an entire area completely freaks out, re-evaluates their survival instincts while producing a higher sense of self, and panics about the end of time even though no one was hurt, structural damage was minimal, and there is no impending attack from an intelligent force?
A 5.9 Earthquake on the east coast!
The human brain has a serious design flaw when it comes to "natural disasters," especially when the "disaster" becomes a communal experience in which people can bounce their thoughts and common "fear" off one another. Car accidents kill thousands a year. Cancer kills thousands a year. I bet more people were killed last year attempting a cartwheel than in this most recent 5.9 Earthquake in Virgina. It's a similar phenomenon to plane accidents, there is something about "lack of control" and even the minute possibility of massive group death (no matter how infinitesimal) that drives a human crazy, even if the statistical evidence shows that the chances of dying in an earthquake or plane crash are incredibly low.
In addition, it seems people generally tie the fate of their life through a disaster with their self worth. Just a quick glance at my Facebook feed minutes after the earthquake occurred showed multiple posts about a person's harrowing experience during an event where no one got hurt. In fact, they wear their fear like a badge of honor. Of course, all the NYC news can talk about is the Earthquake and some even had the audacity to somehow tie in the upcoming 10th anniversary of 9/11 with this current "disaster" (even though the epicenter of the quake was actually in Virginia). What this suggests is a human created mental "catastrophe" to give people a sense that they actually survived a trying time, as if the earthquake was some kind of test of their meddle during a difficult period. And because these thoughts and fears can shared by a sizeable community, it exacerbates the "fear" and makes everything into a much bigger deal than it actually is.
Our current world features multiple wars, financial crises, famines...the list goes on and on. But the Earth shaking a large community for 30 seconds, leaving no damage or casualties, causes everyone to panic and jump to conclusions about all sorts of personal and public policy. It's a kind of common ground in fear that morphs into some weird echo chamber that increases in volume with every passing second.
I know I'm not really being clear, I'm just musing...but I'm sure there's something to this.