How to Escape Disaster While Maintaining Your Dignity

In his book, The Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam documents cases in which people die in disaster because they use the time when they could be escaping looking around trying to figure out what other people are going to do. For example, the people in the South Tower of the World Trade Center had 16 minutes to decide what to do on that fateful day after the first plane hit the North Tower. Officials advised over the public address system that people in the South Tower should stay where they were and not risk exiting the building into the danger of falling debris. Despite this recommendation, one guy put on his running shoes, laced them up, and took off down the stairs. I love that he took the time to put on his running shoes. I also find myself wondering if he took the extra time for double knots.

The problem with running shoe guy is that hindsight is 20/20. We operate in a herd mentality, looking around to our peers for the most acceptable course of action. This guy was probably a little quirky to begin with, or someone would have likely grabbed their own athletic gear and followed him. His co-workers probably watched him dash off thinking, “Look at Bill taking off with his running shoes. What a weirdo!” Then, if everything had indeed been fine and dandy, Bill would have been teased mercilessly for months about what would forever be known as, “Bill’s Running Shoe Incident.”

The moral of this story is if you go around putting on your running shoes with no imminent disaster occurring, people are going to make fun of you. In any potential disaster situation, it is equally important to both act decisively and not look stupid. This is why I suggest implementing what I call “The Starbucks Tactic.”

Consider a sample scenario. You are in your office and the fire alarm goes off. Most of you will glance around to your co-workers and say things like, “I wonder if this is a drill.” Some of you will look for signs of smoke that may or may not be pouring through the building.  However, being aware of the Starbucks Tactic, you ask calmly if anyone would like Starbucks. Your timely decision to go for coffee gives you the opportunity to gather your wireless devices and whatever cash you have on hand, then make your escape. If there is a disaster, you will be camped out at a safe distance with wireless and a latte. If there is no disaster and the fire alarm went off because someone left their popcorn too long in the microwave, then you have your wireless and latte, plus you don’t look like an over-reacting idiot.

Remember this tactic, as it could one day save your life. You are welcome.

In case anyone doubts your intentions.

For Further Research:

The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives, by Shankar Vedantam

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About lgalaviz
All of this hardly seems necessary.

23 Responses to How to Escape Disaster While Maintaining Your Dignity

  1. jbrown3079 says:

    There was a man who put his office, which consisted hundreds of people, through years of evacuation drills. Other offices and even the people participating in the drills made relentless fun of him. When the first plane hit, his people followed the established drill to the letter. They lived. He went back to make sure everyone was out. He died.
    Imagine the amount of survivor guilt those people must have. Not just for all of the others who died that day, but also not getting the opportunity to thank the man who ignored the teasing and continued to have the monthly drills.

  2. a says:

    I have to say…this is a brilliant tactic. I always leave anyway, because anything, even a fire drill, is better than working. 🙂

  3. It is easy to become complaisant with all these alarms we experience both in workplaces and other buildings like airports etc. Ironically, when it really counts, the alarms might not go off at all. During the Cold war, we lived under the constant threat of thermo nuclear weapon attack. It was widely understood that no public warning would be issued if such an attack were ever detected, as we would not been able to do much to protect ourselves in those 10 – 15 minutes anyway.

    The point I’m making is: do as lgalaviz recommends and make yourself scarce next time you hear an alarm. You might not be getting an alarm the next time. Going to Starbucks seem like the perfect excuse!

  4. Debihen says:

    Is there a plan for non coffee drinkers? Wait, I do like Starbucks salted caramel hot chocolates…and the banana bread is good. Never mind. Disaster Plan disaster averted. Carry on.

    • They also have a chai tea latte. You could do Jamba Juice, but I don’t think they have free wireless. Wireless access is key.

    • elaine4queen says:

      now i know i need a plan i know what it would be.

      see, the trouble with the #starbuckstactic is that people might hold you up asking you to get stuff for them. if, on the other hand, you say loudly “well, whatever it is, i’m going to have to pee first, i’m not getting caught pissing my pants outside again” no one will want to even engage in eye contact.

      thanks for the heads up, though, because now i don’t have to waste time looking to see what other people are doing about the loud ringing sound. (often NOTHING)

      • lgalaviz says:

        You have obviously given this one more thought than me. I would have found myself trapped with a handwritten list of Grande Mochas. Your sudden urge to pee is genius. No one is going to want to write down orders for that.

  5. lahikmajoe says:

    How do you consistently come up with such practical advice? This is good stuff.

    I think I’d offer to grab everyone some tea though. Takes a bit longer to steep, and…well, it’s tea.

    • lgalaviz says:

      That is a good point, tea works just as well. The steeping will give you plenty of time to make sure the situation has resolved itself before your return.

  6. Lisa says:

    Unfortunately our work building has gone too far the other way. There are so many tests on the fire alarm system that we would not have a clue if there was a real fire as it has become “just another noise at work.” I could try the Starbucks Tactic to be safe but I fear I will never sleep or stop twitching again.

  7. Blogdramedy says:

    Brilliant as always.
    Now if I can only get our wifi working on the boat, so I can write about MY Starbucks Solution. 😉

    • lgalaviz says:

      Great. Let’s do that thing where you write about my blog, then I write about your blog writing about my blog. I love that.

      P.S. I think you will have to think of another solution, because I don’t think the Starbucks Solution will work on a cruise ship. You are pretty much stuck there no matter what happens. Perhaps you can sunbathe closer to the life boats, just in case.

  8. DogsDontPurr says:

    I was at a convention in Las Vegas shortly after 9/11. We were in a group, waiting for the convention hall to open when the alarms started going off. Fire doors started closing. We all asked each other what to do. Somebody in the crowd said they thought it was a false alarm. So we did NOTHING.

    Fortunately, it was a false alarm. But looking back on it, it freaks me out that we did not all just get the hell outta there. I think we were all still shell shocked from 9/11 and just froze. Oy.

    On a side note: have you ever noticed that there are no exit signs in most Las Vegas casinos? I know, they want to entangle you, in hopes that you will stop and gamble more. But still, it freaks me out. Whenever I am in an unfamiliar place now, I always plan an exit strategy. I think I may also now need one of your T~shirts!

    • lgalaviz says:

      Vegas is dangerous. If there are no exit signs, and no windows, and no clocks, how will you ever escape? Not only will you not know where to escape, you will have no idea how long it is taking. I like your idea of having more of an exit strategy than just running around yelling ‘Starbucks.’ I may need to give this one some more thought.

  9. MsDarkstar says:

    Anytime I go someplace new, the first thing I look for is the restroom. That way, in an emergency I can at least be assured I will have an empty bladder. Because death in a disaster is tragic, but having someone find your body AND having them find you’ve soiled yourself is just not something I want happening to me. I may not live, but at least I’ll have retained my dignity.

    Starbucks is a good plan, unless the alarm goes off at the Starbucks because some trainee barista left the bean roaster on too long. Starbucks also has tea… so I can kill some oxidants whilst killing time making sure I’m not embroiled in a disaster.

    I should get one of your t-shirts, though… just to add legitimacy to my claim that I have a valid NEED and not just a DESIRE for some tasty beverages (and a side of wireless access).

  10. Duncan says:

    Unfortunately, us hourly workers aren’t allowed to take off to get coffee. We’re stuck with the yucky stuff in the break-room. I guess we are just doomed to die in whatever disaster strikes.

  11. Duncan says:

    …like the lower classes on the Titanic.

  12. lgalaviz says:

    You are dooomed, and with yucky coffee. This is terrible!

  13. ramona says:

    I’ll get my running shoes ready

  14. ramona says:

    As always some plans work for most of the people most of time or is ot some of the people some of the time or is it none of the people none of the time. Anyway.make your own plans

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