“The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why” is a book written by Amanda Ripley, a journalist and investigative reporter. The book explores the psychology and behavior of people during times of crisis, such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks, and examines what factors influence who survives and who doesn’t.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part, “The Mind of Disaster,” looks at the psychological and physiological responses that people have during a crisis. Ripley explores the concept of “survival mode,” which is the body’s automatic response to danger, and how it affects decision-making and behavior. She also looks at the role of fear and panic in survival, and how people often make decisions that are detrimental to their survival.
In the second part, “The Culture of Safety,” Ripley examines the role that culture, training, and preparation play in survival. She looks at examples of disasters in different parts of the world, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the 2004 tsunami in Asia, and how the cultural and social context of each disaster affected the way people reacted and the outcomes. She also examines how organizations and societies can better prepare for disasters through training and education.
The third part of the book, “The Power of Training,” looks at the methods and techniques that have been developed to help people survive in crises. Ripley examines the science of “human factors,” which is the study of how people interact with technology and systems, and how this knowledge can be applied to improve disaster preparedness and response. She also explores the concept of “situational awareness,” which is the ability to understand and respond to the current situation, and how training can help people develop this skill.
Throughout the book, Ripley draws on research and interviews with experts in the fields of psychology, disaster management, and emergency response, as well as survivors and witnesses of disasters, to provide a comprehensive look at the science of survival. The book aims to help readers understand the psychological and physiological responses that occur during a crisis and how it can be overcome as well as what can be done to better prepare for and respond to future disasters.
- “Survival mode”: Ripley explains that when the body is in survival mode, it prioritizes certain functions, such as the fight-or-flight response, at the expense of others, such as rational thinking. This means that the body is focused on physical survival, rather than making rational decisions. When in survival mode, people may experience changes in their perception of time, as well as heightened senses, such as improved hearing and vision. However, this heightened state can also lead to poor decision making, such as freezing in a dangerous situation or running into danger instead of away from it.
- Fear and panic: The author explains that fear and panic can often lead to poor decisions and impede survival during a crisis. For example, in a panic, people may make impulsive decisions, such as running towards an exit instead of away from a fire, or they may become paralyzed and unable to take action. Ripley also highlights the ways in which people can learn to manage their fear and panic, such as through training and preparation. By practicing drills and simulations and preparing for different scenarios, people can become more familiar with how to react in a crisis and reduce fear and panic.
- Culture and context: Ripley examines the role that culture, training, and preparation play in survival, showing how different cultures and social contexts can affect the way people react and the outcomes of a crisis. For example, she explains how the culture of safety in Japan helped many people survive the 2011 tsunami, while the lack of safety culture in the United States contributed to the high number of deaths during the 9/11 attacks. She also explains how organizations and societies can better prepare for disasters through training and education, by creating a culture of safety and a sense of shared responsibility.
- Human factors: The author examines the science of “human factors,” which is the study of how people interact with technology and systems, and how this knowledge can be applied to improve disaster preparedness and response. Human factors research helps understand how to design systems that are more intuitive, simpler and easier for people to use during a crisis. Ripley shows how systems that are difficult or confusing to use can lead to mistakes and accidents, and how simple design changes can improve safety.
- Situational awareness: Ripley explores the concept of “situational awareness,” which is the ability to understand and respond to the current situation. She explains that having a good understanding of what is happening around you, being able to anticipate potential hazards and knowing how to respond can greatly improve survival chances. She also explains that training can help people develop this skill, by teaching them how to assess risks, detect potential hazards and make decisions based on the current situation.
- Training and preparation: The author highlights the importance of training and preparation in survival, showing how organizations and individuals can improve their chances of survival through practicing, drills and simulations. By being familiar with emergency procedures, knowing how to use equipment and being able to react quickly in an emergency situation, people are better prepared to survive. Ripley also explains how training helps to build confidence and reduce fear, panic and poor decision making in a crisis.
- Understanding the science of survival: Throughout the book, Ripley draws on research and interviews with experts in the fields of psychology, disaster management, and emergency response, as well as survivors and witnesses of disasters, to provide a comprehensive look at the science of survival. She explains that understanding the psychological and physiological responses that occur during a crisis can help people to overcome them, and to prepare and train for future disasters. By learning from past disasters, we can improve our chances of survival in future crises.
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