In Amanda Ripley’s book, “The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why,” is an outstanding account of real-life scenarios of people’s struggle to survive different disasters. It also provides psychological reasons why we act the way we do in these situations. The author discusses that during any type of disaster, a person travels through three phases: denial, deliberation, and the decisive moment. Reality is full of unforeseen events. The end result of these unforeseen events depends on the choices the person makes during the three phases after the disaster occurs.
#1: Take Responsibility For Your Own Survival
In a disaster situation, the use of denial can be a good yet dangerous survival technique. Studies have shown that in a disaster situation, people become bizarrely courteous. Perhaps, it is because they are not wanting to look like they are “jumping the gun” as far as trying to run out first. In a disaster, many are passive and wait around because they do not know where to go, what to do. It could also be that they never imagined they would be in this situation and cannot even fathom how to escape it. It is a fact that fear distorts our behavior. Fear is the most dangerous role to play when in the middle of a disaster.
After the initial attack on 9/11, many of the workers in the World Trade Centers made phone calls and even had time to turn their computers off. They slowly made their way to the staircases. This is part of the human condition to deal with a disaster. The fight or flight response does not necessarily kick in immediately. There will be times when some people “wake up” and stops their nonchalant attitude, takes off the Mr. Nice Guy suit and becomes more aggressive in their pursuit to survive. This will also assist others to move out of their denial phase. These people could save many lives but look like the bad guys in the middle of the situation. Bottom line is this: an emergency situation is an emergency – so treat it that way and take it seriously and get out of danger as swiftly as possible.
#2: Solely Relying on Someone Else To Save You Is Foolish and Naive
Emergency responders, city officials, police and fire departments are collectively present to protect the community. It is only logical to believe that each emergency responders will, in some way be going through a disaster cycle of their own. Coupled with them trying to do their job and risk their lives, they cannot possibly respond to every victim’s need at the same time. The sooner a person in the disaster realizes that the faster they can begin to take responsibility for their own survival. To take control over their well being and safety, they need to wake up out of the denial phase and begin formulating a plan of action. Try and calm down and use your senses to help you.
(Please understand that I am in no way implying that it is every man for himself. But help the emergency responders by getting out of danger so they do not have to risk their lives to save you.)
Train Yourself To Act Without Fear
In any type of military training facility, they run drills. This concept is the core lesson of the book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why:
“The best way to get the brain to perform under extreme stress is to repeatedly run it through rehearsals beforehand. Or as the military puts it, the ‘Eight P’s’: Proper prior planning and preparation prevents piss-poor performance.”
There are ways to be more proactive in your emergency training:
- Become more aware of your surroundings.
- Locate the emergency exits.
- Time how fast you can get out of a building.
- Ask the security guards their emergency evacuation protocols.
There is no doubt that everyone has heard how important it is to prepare for a disaster. It is said that 95% of disasters can be prepared for. But, for one reason or another, this is put off or not taken seriously. Many believe that “the worst-case scenario” cannot happen to them. They attempt to use logic and negotiation in order to believe such atrocities would never happen to them. They may think such thoughts as, “Things can’t go wrong, I am a model citizen; I pay my taxes,” or “I go to work every day, my family is well cared for.” But unforeseen situations are not discriminating. They can happen to the delinquents of society just as much as the model citizens. The only ways to survive them is to move through these phases as fast as possible to get out of harm’s way.