Blair Andrews's Reviews > The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why

The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley
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Apr 19, 11


Today, nine out of ten Americans live in places at significant risk of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, terrorism, or other disasters. 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?

In her quest to answer these questions, Amanda Ripley, an award-winning writer on homeland security for Time, offers a compelling look at instinct and disaster response as she explores the psychology of fear and how it can save or destroy us. Surprisingly, she reports, mass panic is rare, and an understanding of the dynamics of crowds can help prevent a stampede, while a well-trained crew can get passengers quickly but calmly off a crashed plane. Using interviews with survivors of hotel fires, hostage situations, plane crashes and, 9/11, Ripley takes readers through the three stages of reaction to calamity: disbelief, deliberation and action. The average person slows down, spending valuable minutes to gather belongings and check in with others. The human tendency to stay in groups can make evacuation take much longer than experts estimate. Official policy based on inaccurate assumptions can also put people in danger; even after 9/11, Ripley says, the requirement for evacuation drills on office buildings is inadequate. Ripley's in-depth look at the psychology of disaster response, alongside survivors' accounts, makes for gripping reading, sure to raise debate as well as our awareness of a life-and-death issue. 8 pages of color photos.

I learned so much from this book. For instance, when I check into hotels, I take the stairs to my room so I will already be familiar with the location of the nearest emergency exit. I also count the seats on an airplane as I go down the aisle, so I will be able to locate the exit in the likely event that I will be blinded by think black smoke should there be an emergency. I simply cannot emphasize how important it is to read this book. It changed my entire outlook on disasters and I feel much more empowered to deal with one should I be unlucky enough to find myself in the midst of a disaster.
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