On the cover of the current issue of TIME magazine: How to Survive a Disaster. The article summarises several key points to beat the odds, and come out alive.
1. It's a matter of preparation. If you never anticipate it, you can be pretty sure you won't be ready to deal with it.
2. Panic can be your friend. Supposedly, animals play dead to discourage predators from attacking. Naturally, if this is your response in a crisis, it may not have the desired effect. TIME reports that many survivors have reported feeling an overwhelming urge to stop moving during the incident. Often, what snaps them out of the stupor is thinking of loved ones, especially children. I find that quite easy to understand, and if I had children of my own, I'd want to fight to be with them as long as I could. How do we deal with this "deer in the headlights" phenomenon? Firedrills! Yes, that waste-of-time exercise that seems to only reinforce the belief if a fire breaks out, we will all indeed perish, actually secretly teaches our brains how to get out of tight corners and hairy situations. Watching the stewardess pretend to blow up the life-jacket on your 1000th flight may save your life.
3. We all have our role to play. Identity shapes behaviour. I can identify with that. In a stressful or new situation, I revert to whatever I'm most comfortable doing. Sometimes it's carefully and obsessively copying and rewriting notes when I should be planning a new strategy. Other times, it's baking enough to feed an army, when I should be paying my bills. The good news is, Doctors tend to act like Doctors. We triage patients, check vital signs and administer CPR. The basal instincts kick in. A sense of responsibility, and the experience to act instinctively, allow one to lead in situations where others tend to follow.
4. How one person made a difference. Risk Rescorla's belief and dedication made the changes that saved 2,687 lives on 9/11. He was one man fighting against the system, but he stuck it out, and it paid off. This is something I know in theory but am still struggling to put into practice. I need to believe that I can do something, before anyone else will.
The article was referring to physical disasters - earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorist attacks etc. I think these points apply to all disasters, including the emotional ones we battle with on a much more regular basis.
Try them out, I'm going to.