Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Unthinkable

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why (Amanda Ripley, 2008) is at times a harrowing read, but if there's one book I've read this year that I'd recommend for everyone, this is it.

Of course, that's mostly because anyone reading this could theoretically find themselves facing an earthquake, a tornado, a tsunami, a terrorist attack, etc., while most of what I read is more driven by my personal quirks and interests. But the value of The Unthinkable isn't just in its universal topicality, but in the amount of surprising and usable information it contains. E.g. people rarely panic in a disaster--they're more likely to go numb and not act until it's too late. But authorities have a bad habit of not training and informing the public about risks out of fear of creating panic...which just makes the numb phase worse, because the more information people have, the better and more quickly they respond. (Which is why military and medical personnel tend to do well in disasters--not because they're a higher order of being, but because they're trained to think in a crisis.)

So. From now on I'm going to leave the office immediately when the fire alarm goes off instead of grumbling to myself about how it's NEVER a real fire and waiting a few minutes to see if it'll stop before going out into the cold and rain. And I'm also going to actually look at the safety cards on airplanes and notice where the emergency exits are. Because when you look at fires or plane crashes with only a handful of survivors, it's often the ones who paid attention and heeded warnings.

1 comment:

Kel-Bell said...

I always think of the movie "Fight Club" when I look at safety cards on an Airplane.

In the film Brad Pitt points out that the cartoon drawings on those cards show calm happy people exiting the crashed plane. Then he replaces the cards with his own version, where the drawings show people in a state of terror and panic.