Sunday, June 22, 2008

Surviving the Unthinkable: Denial and Deliberation

John Robb reviews Amanda Ripley's book on surviving disaster. An excerpt:

Denial keeps you from realizing that you are in danger. It’s rooted in bad risk assessment, overconfidence, and a lack of relevant experience. Bouts with denial can delay your response, as Ripley illustrates through the testimony of Elia Zedeno, who relates her painfully slow escape from the 73rd floor of Tower One on September 11. Once you realize the extent of the peril, though, fear might take over. Deliberation requires overcoming fear to regain the ability to think clearly. Ripley tells the story of U.S. Ambassador Diego Asencio, taken hostage by armed assault on the Dominican Republic’s embassy in Bogota, Colombia. His experience put him through Ripley’s survival arc, and it was only through a period of “self-talk”—in which he realized that he was more worried about dishonorable conduct than death—that he overcame his mind-numbing fear. Asencio’s initial passivity is also common among groups. Contrary to popular understanding, group behavior during disasters is rarely panic-driven, but more often extremely docile and overly polite. Getting a group to respond and act effectively often requires aggressive behavior, like barking orders.

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