Wednesday, August 20, 2008

You have minutes to escape—forget the stuff!

KUOW's Weekday had a show this morning asking listeners to call in and share what item they would take with them if their house were on fire. I'm just finishing up Amanda Ripley's amazing book on disasters, so this is all particularly fresh in my mind ... but please ... if your house is on fire, don't take anything with you. Just get out!

Make sure your family and pets are safe if you must and then get out. One of the reasons people die in emergencies is because they go through an urge to gather—looking around them, trying to decide what they need to take with them. According to Ripley's research and interviews, when planes hit the World Trade Center on 9/11, some workers looked around their cubes and deliberated whether they needed their purses, the mystery novel they were reading, etc., before they left. It slows down the mental process. And the faster you can get your conscious brain to move into the message that it's time to escape, the better off you are.

I wish Weekday hadn't perpetuated this dangerous notion that everyone has time to pick one dear object. It's not true. Not everyone even has time to escape a fire alive. And that should be the one and only priority if you ever find yourself in a fire. Forget the Rick Steves DVDs. (That was one of the items mentioned on the program today.) No thing matters as much as preserving life when it comes down to it.

Don't let your subconscious brain decide that, in an emergency, there is time to grab one important thing. The last thing you need to do in a disaster is waste time deciding which one object is most important to grab.

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