Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Regular People

I've just started reading The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes—And Why by Amanda Ripley. I picked up the book because of a gripping interview Ripley gave on the Diane Rehm show, so I was pretty certain I would like the book before I started it.

Ripley's work is fascinating. She studies the way people behave in disasters by interviewing survivors and putting herself through disaster simulations to look at two things:

1) what happens to people during disasters; and
2) what types of people survive disasters.

As I said, I've only just started, but already, I'm really impressed by one facet of her research: Ripley's focus on regular people. She writes:

"These days, we tend to think of disasters as acts of God and government. Regular people only feature into the equation as victims, which is a shame. Because regular people are the most important people at a disaster scene, every time" (p. xiii).

Ripley goes on to cite the example of a series of sewer explosions in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1992. "Regular people" had used car jacks to lift rubble off of survivors; they used garden hoses to force air into voids in which people were trapped. Nearly all of those who ended up being rescued were rescued in the first two hours—by "regular people"—before medics, police, government officials, or search dogs could even reach the scene (p. xiii).

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