Often when confronted with a tragedy such as a plane crash or a natural disaster like a devastating tornado outbreak, we are prone to ask ourselves, “What would I do in that situation?” Such questions also creep into conversations around the anniversary of 9/11. People often wonder, “What would I do if I found myself in the midst of a terrorist attack?”
Well, I’m here to offer you some assurance. I can almost guarantee that you won’t panic and you most likely won’t adopt an “every man for himself” attitude, either. I know that may be hard to believe, but it’s true. The news media, Hollywood movies, and our government have worked diligently to implant the notion that widespread panic will ensue anytime there’s a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or some other emergency. However, researchers who’ve studied how people behave during an emergency found no evidence to support this belief.
…(W)e have nearly 50 years of evidence on panic, and the conclusion is clear: people rarely panic, at least in the usual sense that word is used. Even when people feel “exces- sive fear”—a sense of overwhelming doom—they usually avoid “injudicious efforts” and “chaos.” In particular, they are unlikely to cause harm to others as they reach for safety and may even put their own lives at risk to help others.
Knowing that you won’t panic, it’s all the more important that you know your disaster personality and have mentally and physically rehearsed what to do in certain situations. For example, have you practiced or even discussed with your children what to do if you awaken in the middle of the night to the beeping of your smoke detector? If you’re in a high rise hotel fire and decide to evacuate what’s the most critical item to take with you? (Hint: The room key. If you find your stairwell exit blocked, you do not want to be trapped in the hallway.) At the same time, remember to balance your fears with reality. You’re much more likely to die from clogged arteries at the hands of that Big Mac you ate for lunch than you are from the actions of another Timothy McVeigh.
On this somber anniversary, I encourage people to honor the victims and survivors of 9/11, by being prepared for what life may throw at you. Know where your fire exits are. Own a first aid kit. Have an earthquake preparedness kit. Read that emergency card the next time you’re on an airplane. Listen to the safety briefing as you taxi to the runway. Your brain is your best defense; equip it with knowledge.
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