Today, nine out of ten Americans live in places at significant risk of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, terrorism, or other disasters. Disasters are any sudden calamity causing great loss of life or property. Tomorrow, some of us will have to make split-second choices to save ourselves and our families. How will we react? What will it feel like? Will we be heroes or victims?
The Unthinkable is a fascinating study on dozens of disasters and the human responses of those involved. Ripley discusses the Survival Arc—the three-step journey from danger to safety through denial, deliberation, and the decisive moment. We discover how fear guides our reactions in every station of the survival arc and what we can do to train fear and stress. Ripley interviewed survivors of the World Trade Center collapse on 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the 1994 sinking of the Estonia ferry in the Baltic Sea, jet crashes, and many more disasters. We learn about groupthink, crowd physics, paralysis, and the panic of one.
“People respond to meet a need in a crisis if they know what to do,” says a past FEMA director. “You give people the opportunity to be part of something that will make a difference and they will step up.” Thus, CERTs (Community Emergency Response Teams) are being established among citizens in many neighborhoods, encouraging people to help others in emergencies.
Reading The Unthinkable is definitely “an ounce of prevention.” Training the brain how to respond before disasters happen allows it to do a much better job when taking time to think could end in tragedy.