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In disaster scenarios, such as citywide power outages or massive blizzards, people often flock to gas stations (for generator fuel) or clear out supermarkets. One might call this "common sense". I think sociology starts to describe this behavior, but what's a more accurate noun?

so·ci·ol·o·gy (noun)

  1. The study of human social behavior, especially the study of the origins, organization, institutions, and development of human society.
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Panic encompasses much of what you're describing, but I don't think it's accurate enough to be the answer which you're seeking. –  Brendon Nov 2 '11 at 1:30
    
Expand please; are you asking about (a) picking up supplies after a disaster (b) how people behave generally after a disaster or (c) how people behave generally, with this as an example? –  TimLymington Nov 2 '11 at 11:29
    
@JasperLoy, Ah, true. My mistake. –  superuser Nov 2 '11 at 22:32
    
@TimLymington, (b) is what I'm seeking. –  superuser Nov 2 '11 at 22:34
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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Hoarding is a term often used to name such behavior:

Hoarding or caching is a general term for a behavior that leads people or animals to accumulate food or other items in anticipation of future need or scarcity. [...] Civil unrest or natural disaster may lead people to hoard foodstuffs, water, gasoline, and other essentials which they believe, rightly or wrongly, will soon be in short supply. [...] Rumors surrounding [Japan’s] worst earthquake and nuclear disaster have resulted in hoarding of rice [...]

Aside: In the UK but not in the US, hoarding or hoardings are used as nouns meaning (1) "temporary fence-like structure built around building work" and (3) "A billboard", so for the purposes of this answer just ignore those two meanings, and also meaning (2), "roofed wooden shield placed over the battlements of a castle and projecting from them", as excellently illustrated by reconstructed hoardings at Carcassonne, France.

If you seek a term less-specific than hoarding but more-specific than sociology (which as mentioned is study of behaviour) also consider survivalism:

Survivalism is a movement of [people] preparing for future possible disruptions in local, regional, national, or international social or political order. Survivalists often prepare for ... anticipated disruption by having emergency medical training, stockpiling food and water, preparing for self-defense and self-sufficiency, and/or building structures that will help them survive [...] natural disasters, patterns of apocalyptic planetary crises, [...] tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, severe thunderstorms, [...] chemical spills, release of radioactive materials, nuclear or conventional war, oppressive governments, general collapse of society [etc.]

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Perhaps 'herd behavior' describes what you're talking about. There are a number of related terms listed in the "See also" section at that link.

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I personally like hysteria. It conveys the anxiety associated with the disaster as well as the perhaps irrational behavior that results.

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FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), I think, covers it, and, I suppose, it is a noun.

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FUD usually refers to the intentional spread of worrying information, perhaps with the intent to induce this type of panic or to make people docile. It is not usually used to describe the panic or herdlike behavior itself. –  aedia λ Nov 2 '11 at 20:27
    
This is really a comment, not an answer to the question. You can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. –  tchrist Aug 19 '12 at 2:55
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