Amanda Ripley’s book, The Unthinkable; Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – And Why, is absolutely essential reading for anyone who’d like to improve their odds at surviving a disaster, as well as for anyone responsible for providing training in the field.
Ripley goes far beyond the wooden or mechanical instructions often found in crisis plans; she provides riveting stories, including numerous interviews with disaster-survivors, offering intriguing insights into what makes all the difference in disaster survival.
Ripley breaks her discussion into three broad categories, representing the normal human responses in disasters: denial, deliberation and decisions. In the first stage, humans commonly go into a kind of mental numbing – we can’t absorb what’s happening, so we delay, we procrastinate, we try to behave “normally” as if that will make the world normal again. For most of us, major disasters are rare, and we have trouble coming to grips with them.
If we can get past that, we try to figure out what to do, but that’s hard when our adrenaline’s pumping and we’re terrified. We frequently react in ways that don’t help at all. Fear can overwhelm us, and we are easily influenced by a herd mentality – whatever everybody else is doing seems like a good idea. This can lead to mass casualties.
If we get past this stage we still have to make decisions about what to do, and that’s not easy. We may panic. We may become paralyzed. And if we’re fortunate enough to be able to snap out of it, to think and to plan, we may get out in one piece.
Planning can make all the difference, but how do you begin? My suggestion: by reading this book.