Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why
By Amanda Ripley
Crown Publishers, New York 2008
(It's less than $17 on Amazon)
This is a great book. It belongs on the shelf of every person who responds to, studies, or has a personal interest in disasters and how we humans react under the enormous stress that accompanies them.
Amanda Ripley takes the reader on a journey through a wide variety of disasters, emergencies, and other extremely intense situations through first person accounts and then dissects each example looking at it from a variety of angles. Whether it is a hostage event in Latin America, office workers trapped in and escaping the World Trade Center towers on 9-11, or Special Forces soldiers in action, Ripley looks at psychological, physiological, and emotional reactions to emergencies. She considers how such emergencies were initially planned for (if at all) and how those plans either worked or (in most cases) failed.
She leads the reader to the discovery and realization that normal everyday citizens are the ones who will either make or break any response options and that emergency planners consistently underestimate “civilian” capabilities in times of crisis. Because of this, they fail to train Joe Average in even basic preparedness and precautionary measures so necessary for dealing with the unthinkable.
If she read this blog, I think she would agree with many things I put forth here. Things like: when it’s time to move – MOVE!; the fact that we all need to plan and prepare for ourselves because really, no one is going to be there to help us in time; and the reality that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary feats when they summon the best in themselves during times of adversity.
She brings up points that I may not necessarily agree with but that prove interesting and worthy of further study nonetheless. The principle one being that humans formed certain survival attributes back in the dim recess of time (things like literally freezing in the face of predators) that, while useful then, are distinctly unhelpful now.
She discusses how time slows down in extremely stressful situations, how some individuals can become hyper-aware, and how others can become totally brain dead. She discusses theories on determining how one will react to given stimuli – before an event occurs. And she does all of this in an interesting, fast paced manner.
I’ll be honest, at first I thought this would be a mere re-do or copy of Laurence Gonzales’ Deep Survival – Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (which is also and excellent book, by the way). I mean, c’mon – the titles are so similar as to be synonymous! But it is a different book. Similar but different. If you liked Deep Survival, you’ll like The Unthinkable.
The book is enjoyable to read. It is also very educational. It is structured in a way that makes it easy to digest by reading and thinking about one section at a time.
I highly recommend it to you.
If you have any comments I’d love to hear them.
If they really interest me, I may even post them.
You can reach me at Joe
Prepared Americans for a Strong America