This is a funny article from Forbes about the different reactions to Hurricane Irene in the Bahamas, from people living in the Bahamas and from tourists hailing from the United States. The Bahamas natives were playing it cool, just getting their precautionary measures in order, while Americans were bailing for the taxis to get to the airport. Of course, not every Bahamas native was calm, nor was every American panicky over Irene, but I feel that the author's account is likely accurate. As he also points out, our media certainly does not help matters. They never pass up an opportunity to stir up mass panic and hysteria, or an opportunity to get people to spend money, as the Weather Channel was urging people to get "survival kits" (available for both humans and pets).
Now, I come down on the side of people who are prepared for any disaster; my puzzlement is when people scramble during every event like this for essentials that they should already have (like flashlights, just to give one example). But I think it has become pretty obvious that the media exaggerates the severity of these events, at least just a tad, to get people to panic spend, and thereby help make money for their advertisers. I imagine that Home Depot, Walmart and all the other big-box stores received a nice shot in the arm for the escalated business in their stores in the days preceding Irene.
The ancedotes closing the article, of what some of the news reporters were saying, is also telling. One reporter slipped by referring to the weakening of Irene as a "setback". Another said that if "you have family, friends in the Bahamas, you must tell them this is a very dangerous situation!" The gall and chutzpah of such a statement! That's like me somehow being able to contact a random U.S. soldier serving in Iraq or Afghanistan and telling them, "hey, be careful, an insurgent might be aiming for your head!"