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Redefining Safety in the Midst of a Global Shift

November 17th, 2019 – the day the world changed.

In an article written by the South China Morning Post, on this day, the first case of COVID-19 was contracted by a 55-year-old person from Hubei, China. At the time, no one knew the severity of the disease; 8 months later, the world is anew. 

We used to think that wearing a seatbelt was the definition of “being safe.” Having a security system in our homes was a way of keeping our family safe. Looking at ingredients and understanding what their purpose is and where they come from was a way of keeping our bodies safe. Enter COVID-19.

Our way of life has drastically changed, and we are redefining what it means to be safe. While all of those previous definitions are valid, we are introducing new annotations into the ethers of wellbeing. 

What does it mean to be “safe”?

If we take the dictionary definition of safe, it means “to be protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost.” Safety is one of the fundamental pillars that allow us to feel stable in the world around us. After the physiological needs are met in our lives (like food, water, and shelter), feeling safe and secure is next in importance, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. If we don’t feel safe, everything else in our lives crumbles; we don’t have concrete relationships, lack high self-esteem, and cannot achieve our fullest potential. If our basic needs aren’t met, our psychological and self-fulfillment needs cannot be met either. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

“Quarantine.” “Social-distancing.” “Lockdown.” Oh my!

How has safety changes in a global pandemic?

Just as everything else was thrown off-kilter when the world shut down back in March, so has what it means to be safe. From physical safety to emotional safety, and everywhere in between, everyone has a new viewpoint on what it means to feel comfortable and confident in the world around them.

In an interview conducted by McKinsey & Company with Austan Goolsbee, a Robert P. Gwinn Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration, Goolsbee has a pretty interesting take on where the world is in regards to this pandemic.

“As we say, the virus is the boss. Slowing the spread of the virus, lowering the likelihood that people will catch it if they come to your business, helping them feel more comfortable and less fearful—those will be the key elements in bringing the economy back.”

With stay-at-home orders being in effect since March, people are showcasing different forms of comfort and safety redefinitions: physical, mental, and societal.

  • Physical Safety: No matter your political affiliation, there has been one physical manifestation of safety throughout this global shakeup – a mask. Once a visual associated with hospitals and doctors, masks are now a polarizing representation of health and safety. Paired with actual physical distancing, people define safety with contact, space, and facial coverings.
  • Mental Safety: In a recent poll by Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health. Self-quarantining is causing people to feel isolated and alone. The rise of Zoom and other video conferencing tools show people are actively trying to find ways to stay connected and healthy, to maintain mental safety amidst uncertainty.
  • Societal Safety: Not only are we in the midst of a global pandemic, but we are in the midst of societal change. People are voicing what makes them feel unsafe, and what they need to feel safe walking outside in their own skin. Safety for these people is using their voices and amplifying other voices who have been oppressed and unheard for so long.

What does this mean for safety in the future?

While we may currently be in a global pandemic, this moment won’t last forever. So what can we expect out of the future? We will rebuild, refresh, and reinvent. We will continue to transform and challenge norms. Marina Gorbis, executive director at the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit think tank in Palo Alto, California states “Whether it’s the bubonic plague, the Spanish flu or coronavirus, pandemics inevitably are both health events and social events that cause transformations in society and politics.”

Truth be told, consumers are looking to brands to elevate and secure their personal safety.


While still being true to their core values, brands are having to pivot and change rapidly to meet consumer expectations. At Hyperquake, we believe that brands are like people – they are living and breathing. And because of this, the brands who are not positioning themselves as malleable entities in the world are becoming stagnant and struggling to stay afloat. Brands who are helping solve consumer’s struggles around safety and confidence are the ones who are leading the pack and becoming mentors to their heroes: their consumers.

The way we view safety will forever be changed, and what is new and fresh now will become foundational for when the next global crisis happens. Not “if”, but “when”. 

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