July 09, 2020   2:31pm

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How to survive a catastrophe

It’s kind of good news that in a catastrophe, survival comes down to your “disaster personality,” your character and how you’ve trained your brain …Seems there’s a lot out there about survival lately. First, there was a Time cover story “How to Survive a Disaster”* that tells us we can prepare ahead; we can refine our “Disaster Personality” — our state of being that takes over in a crisis — and “teach our brains to work more quickly, maybe even more wisely.” Five ways to improve that “Disaster Personality” are outlined with details:

  1. Attitude
  2. Knowledge
  3. Anxiety Level
  4. Body Weight
  5. Training

The author assures us that our brains can be trained to respond appropriately in extreme stress and gives us specific tips that are simple but effective. For example: Fire drills work – they can dramatically reduce fear because people know where they’re going when they have to exit quickly … When your plane takes off, do LISTEN to the directions they give you in case of a problem; and read those briefing cards that show you the exit rows. These “rituals that we consider an utter waste of time actually give our brains blueprints in the unlikely event we need them.”

Another critical point: “Even in the most chaotic moments our social relationships remain largely intact.” This means that people “tend to look out for one another, and they maintain hierarchies.” Don’t wait around to be led; get going.

A couple of weeks later and my National Geographic Adventure magazine arrived in the mail with the cover story “Everyday Survival”*. The author, Laurence Gonzales, tells us that “character, emotion, personality, styles of thinking, and ways of viewing the world have more to do with how well people cope with adversity than any type of equipment or training.” You “have to engage in learning long before you need it — it’s too late when you’re in the middle of a crisis.” He elaborates with copy blocks that cover:

  • Do the Next Right Thing
  • Control Your Destiny
  • Use a Mantra
  • Deny Denial
  • Think Positive
  • Understand Linked Systems
  • Don’t Celebrate the Summit
  • Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
  • Risk does not equal Reward
  • Trust your Instincts
  • Know Plan B
  • Help Others
  • Be Cool
  • Surrender, but Don’t Give Up.

Also provided is a detailed “My Survival Kit” which the author says should “take care of your basic needs and attract attention”. He suggests that you go in the backyard and test it. (So maybe he doesn’t live in a big city?!) His recommendations are much different and more exhaustive than those given by the city officials where I live.

And there are personal stories — one is about a very talented and determined woman who, as it happens, was the photographer on my trip to Rwanda. Her name is Alison Wright, and she’s written a new book “Learning to Breathe” due out mid-August about her own life-threatening experience and how she managed to survive — when no one thought she had a chance. (I’m planning to write more on this book when it debuts.)

Bottom Line.
It’s nice to have the confidence that you can be (somewhat) in charge when everything and everyone around you is out-of-control. If chance ever works against you, read these two articles, and you’ll be better prepared.


*Time, “How to Survive a Disaster “ by Amanda Ripley, June 9, 2008, pg. 40.

**National Geographic Adventure, “Everyday Survival” by Laurence Gonzales, August, 2008, pg. 65.
NOTE from snoety: You’ll need to go to the newstand and get a copy. You aren’t able to read the article online yet, but they do give you other good information and an audio interview.

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