Friday, January 20, 2012

Where's Your Exit?

Do you yawn or check the score from last night's game during the flight attendant's safety briefing? You might want to pay closer attention next time. 

Last week I woke up, grabbed some coffee and walked out onto the deck of our cruise ship to see the BBC morning news airing the story of a sinking Italian ship. After an ugly encounter with a rocky coastline, it never actually "sank" but met its demise, nonetheless.

On a cruise leaving the States you will, immediately upon departure, have a safety drill in which you will be required to report to your muster station for roll call. This is where you will assemble to board your life boat in the worst case scenario. They are serious. Cabins are checked. Names are marked off. If people are missing the crew finds them to participate in a "make up" drill. A video about exactly what to do in an emergency is playing as you arrive in your cabin and loops constantly. Last year however I traveled across the Ionian Sea from Italy to Greece with my daughter. There was no drill. We did locate our lifejackets in our cabin, but no other instructions were ever given. There was no video in our cabins. Had anything gone wrong we might have been on our own.

At last count as I write this, there are 11 confirmed dead and 21 missing. In this instance it seems to be the captain's fault. But what, if anything, can passengers do to increase their chances of survival in what are called "low probability/ high impact (or consequence) events? 

The short answer is: To ever think about it. At all. It turns out that you have a better chance of saving yourself, and possibly others if you have mentally prepared. Simply put this means, knowing where the exits are and imagining what you would do in an emergency.

Here's a quote from the web site of the author of The Survivor's Club:

In fact, one of the most surprising things you’ll encounter in a disaster is inaction. Believe it or not, but most people do nothing. They’re bewildered. In a stupor, they wait for instructions.

Experts say that 80 percent of us are likely to respond this way with so-called “behavioral inaction.” Only 10 percent act quickly and decisively. Fortunately, just 10 percent of us act dangerously or counterproductively.

Think back to 9-11. How many people, even when they instinctively knew they should leave the building, stayed behind because they followed instructions to do so?  If your intuition tells you things are really bad, they probably are. Every book I've read on the subject indicates that passivity is dangerous. Sitting quietly and believing placating explanations from those in charge wastes precious moments. But the key to survival seems to be being able to wrap your brain around the concept that something bad has happened and action must be taken. Often passengers in plane survivable plane crashes sit stoically even when clear instructions are given.

“Paralysis seems to happen on the steepest slope of the survival arc—where almost all hope is lost, when escape seems impossible, and when the situation is unfamiliar to the extreme.” ~ Amanda Ripley, author of The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes--and Why

It turns out some of these concepts play out on a larger scale in economic downturns and  other personal crises. I'm currently reading the new bio of Kurt Vonnegut. After a lifetime of glittering parties and social status, his mother couldn't adjust to her new circumstances after the loss of the family fortune during the Depression. She killed herself on Mother's Day.

“Resilience is a precious skill. People who have it tend to also have three underlying advantages: a believe that they can influence life events; a tendency to find meaningful purpose in life’s turmoil; and a conviction that they can learn from both positive and negative experiences.”
–Amanda Ripley, The Unthinkable

Find your exits. Imagine the worst and take a moment to think about what you might do.

This concludes today's safety briefing.

Keep calm and carry on...

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