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Lots of books will teach you how to build a fire, but not all survival scenarios can be prepared for. These books talk more about the psychological aspect of survival. I’ve listed the top tips from each and how each one has or could save me. Apparently, I’m ripe for dying based on some psychological factors I’m working to fix.
Deep Survival: Who lives, Who Dies, and Why
Having a Plan: Will it Save You or Kill You?
This one definitely struck a chord with me. I am a total Type A person who always has a plan and will make sure I see it through. While this has helped me have a lot of success in life, it could also kill me. You see people who have a plan are not flexible and they are rigid in their actions. We are so focused on making the plan happen we don’t notice that conditions may not be right or that we’re not quite prepared. Nope, the plan must be followed.
Plan or rule followers aren’t flexible with their thinking and, the more things go wrong, the more we may hold tighter to that plan for security. Four climbers learned this lesson the hard way. They had a plan to climb Cathedral Peak and be down by the afternoon in case thunderstorms came through. But then a bear stole their breakfast, delaying them as they searched for food. Then the weather posted had yesterday’s forecast and not the day-of, but how much could things change in a day? Eventually, they started their climb under sunny skies but those conditions wouldn’t last. Before the day was out, one member would be struck by lightning and almost killed.
How This Book Helped Me
I still hit the trail with a plan but accept that the plan can and will change and I can be flexible. There have been more than a few summits I’ve turned away from and trails I’ve waited another day to venture up. At one hike with a new group, I turned around rather than summiting the peak when the thunderstorms rolled in. While most continued on, I walked down with one guy who told me of being on a peak in the high Unitas when electricity coursed through his body and he quickly descended before the strike. He now turns back early as well. It’s not worth the risk.
The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes
Group Think: When It Saves and When It Kills
During times of disaster, people turn to others around them for help and guidance. Many times these tragic times help others unite and offer aid to each other. In the 70s, a massive fire at a country club in Cincinnati, Ohio, killed 167 people. Some survived by relying on their group while others died for the same reason.
Back then there were no fire alarms chirping their annoying warning and most guests had no clue the raging inferno advanced through the building. Many workers walked around trying to find the owners and supervisors to tell them what to do. Even when many of the guests heard there was a fire, they still remained in their seats enjoying dinner. They took their cues from those around them and no one else seemed to be panicked.
In other rooms, stronger warnings went out and people took it upon themselves to get the group moving. One bride took responsibility for her guests and ushered them out the door. The few who were reluctant to take action were pressured by the group. Others in her party tended to the wounded or drove people away from the site. They united in a common goal.
The New York Times did an in depth piece I highly recommending reading (and Pulitzer prize winner) on an avalanche that killed three extremely experienced skiers and injured several more. A part of what led to those deaths was that no one wanted to be the person who backed out first. The group made the decision to ski in very risk conditions even while individuals knew it was a bad idea.
Denial: That Beguiling Mistress
When disaster first strikes, there’s a sense of disbelief, that what’s happening really can’t be happening. We waste precious moments (like the diners above) unwilling to deal with catastrophe at hand. On 9-11, building occupants waited an average of six minutes before beginning their evacuation. Why? Because most of us have been in ominous situations that turned out to be nothing so we assume each new situation will have the same results. We also don’t want to risk social embarrassment. How many alarms have we heard in our life and how many of those actually meant something dangerous was happening?
But one man evacuated immediately from the towers and screamed at others to the same, pulling them out of their denial. Why did he react differently? Simple, he’d already survived a fire and knew that ominous situations can turn deadly.
How This Book Helped Me
I was working at an office in Burbank, California, as an intern a year or so after reading this book. As an intern, I had no influence and wasn’t even working with my team who were on the other side of the office. One afternoon the fire alarm went off and no one responded. For a second, neither did I. After all if everyone else wasn’t worried, why should I be? Then I remembered the book. I still didn’t act as quickly as I could, not wanting to risk social embarrassment. My desk was near the stairwell so I decided to duck my head in and check if others were reacting.
The stairwell of my office was full of smoke.
I called out to a few deskmates around me and told them there was smoke. I then left without worrying about anyone else. Once evacuated, we found out the building was not on fire but had filled with smoke from a brush fire in the nearby Hollywood Hills. I often wonder if my response was quicker than others since I wasn’t native Californian and wasn’t used to the almost constant wildfire smoke.
A few years later I was back in Utah and working at a downtown high rise. One morning the power went out and we all popped up from our cubicles, looking around to see what others were doing and if anyone knew anything. Our office admin quickly came over and told us the fire alarms were going off in the stairwells (still not sure why they weren’t operating right on our floor). In a single second, I grabbed my laptop and headed for the door. This time (because I actually had a team around me), I encouraged others to do the same. Still, we all thought it was a malfunctioning alarm.
Much to our surprise when we finally emerged from the lobby, black smoke billowed out of the basement. This time there really was a fire and had been a minor injury (a power maintenance worker who’d made the mistake that caused the fire).
Now when an alarm goes off, I go out immediately.
The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life
Positivity: Powerful or Dangerous
Most people harp on the power of positivity, but extreme positivity in the face of dire circumstances can kill. Positivity takes a great deal of energy that would better be spent assessing one’s circumstances and determining what to do. He quotes the book Good to Great and the POW survivor, Admiral James Stockdale who said,
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.”
He also points out and I want to reiterate who survives can determined by some “cosmic coin toss.” There are people who will die instantly during any calamity and are never given the chance to fight their way through. I add this because I see a lot of victim blaming when bad things happen. It’s human nature to wonder what someone could’ve done to avoid the bad thing. It makes us feel safer because we think we’ll never make that mistake. Yet, so much of life is up to chance.
How This Book Helped Me
When COVID-19 swept through the world in 2020 so many of us thought that it would be a few weeks, then a few months, and most of us weren’t prepared with how long it would be. I was one of these at first. The week my work shut down, I stupidly bought a trip to Mexico for that June at a discount. After all, things would be better in June. In my defense, the much-feared swine flu had merely been a blip. Of course, that trip never happened.
Early that summer when most people were celebrating the end of COVID, I took stock of situation and realized we were in for a long haul (I work in healthcare analytics and was tracking the data). Going by the status of the vaccines and the nature of viruses, I figured we were in for a rough year before things got better and even then we were in for a new normal. As I watched other people respond to the changing requirements, I saw so much anger and hate.
For an outdoor adventure without ever having to get outside, check out the Lost Gorge Mystery series!
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