Is it really that hard?

Recently I read this wonderful story of survival on Steven Pressfield’s site:

Marissa Panigrosso, worked on the 98th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. She recalled that when the first plane hit the North Tower on September 11, 2001, a wave of hot air came through her glass windows as intense as opening a pizza oven.

She did not hesitate. She didn’t even pick up her purse, make a phone call or turn off her computer. She walked quickly to the nearest emergency exit, pushed through the door and began the ninety-eight-stairway decent to the ground. What she found curious is that far more people chose to stay right where they were. […]Why would they choose to stay in such a vulnerable place in such an extreme circumstance?

Because they were human beings and human beings find change to be extremely difficult, practically impossible. To leave without being instructed to leave was a risk. What were the chances of another plane hitting their tower, really? And if they did leave, wouldn’t their colleagues think that they were over-reacting, running in fear? They should stay calm and wait for help, maintain an even keel. And that’s what they did. I probably would have too…… Shawn Coyne

Last month, I failed to respond quickly to a very minor but dramatic change in my surroundings so this article resonated with me.

But one thing I am good at, is preparing for the bleeding obvious. Example: in August the RCMP (aka the Mounties) put on a free performance of their iconic Musical Ride. For those who haven't seen it, the Musical Ride is a display of equestrian skills set to music - dressage meets military drill - that started in the 19th century. With roots in the British calvary tradition, it is now uniquely Canadian. Because of the logistics of transporting all those people, horses, and equipment, it doesn't come to a local neighbourhood very often. 

The performance was scheduled for 6:30 in the evening on a hot summer’s day. Most people could figure out that it would be a popular family event and arrived early. Some even brought their own seating. Good planning. The vast majority of the crowd arrived on that simmering afternoon without hats. Families arrived at 5:30 with toddlers and even infants without food or water. 

Okay I get it that Canada is a cold country so normally we don’t think we need to shield our scalps, skin or eyes from the sun (most doctors would vehemently disagree). But it was summer, one of the driest. The weather was true to forecast that day: hot and sunny. No one had to react to an emergency situation. They just had to plan for known conditions. And they didn’t.

Fortunately the event organizers understood how dependent the general public would be. They handed out free bottles of water. The Mounties distributed a limited supply of cardboard hats that acted as sun visors. The safety net of other people’s preparation provided for them.

That makes me wonder how these people would react to a sudden and dramatic emergency: will they have any food, any water, any first aid supplies? Or will they be looking to others to care for them because they can’t care for themselves? Will they stay in their tower until someone tells it’s time to go? 

How prepared are you to react and survive?


Photo by: Alan Bolitho, LM