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Surviving Disaster Takes More Than Luck


The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack was a disaster unlike any New Yorkers had seen. But despite the horrific loss of life, many more people survived the terrorist attack than first believed. In fact, disasters (terrorist attacks, earthquakes, floods, and typhoons for example) happen all the time somewhere in the world.

But why do some people survive while others don’t?

Experts say it’s more than luck. More than anything under your control, they say, planning can help you and your family survive when disaster strikes.

Training Saves Lives

“Time and again, the experts will tell you, that training has saved lives,” says Ben Sherwood, author of The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life. “People who train, and prepare and go through the steps of dealing with a crisis, when that crisis really comes, have a head start.”

A writer for the Los Angeles Times, Sherwood's book details ways in which we can all use our natural gifts to maximize our chances of coming through catastrophic situations. But how do you train for a disaster? Preparedness is key.

Sherwood’s advice is pretty basic stuff: be aware of the types of disaster you’re most likely to face, assemble an emergency kit, develop a plan to deal with it and practice your plan.

In reality, however, survivors report that emergency situations sound, feel and look different than expected. And if one were to believe Hollywood’s account, people respond to disasters with hysteria, screaming and running from the danger. But, according to Sherwood, researchers who have studied disasters going back a hundred years, have found that it doesn’t happen like that at all.

Those Who Act Are More Apt to Survive

It’s believed that in an emergency it’s “every man for himself” in a crisis. But in fact, experts have found that for a brief period of time, they help each other. “They put aside their narrow self interest and work for the betterment of the group that faces the challenge,” says Sherwood. “Generally, people behave in a communal way. They take care of each other in a crisis.”

Beyond that initial reaction, however, Sherwood says most people (as much as 80-percent) freeze in times of crisis, not knowing what to do. “It’s key to be able to flip that switch from bewilderment and inaction, and take action to save your life or the people you care about,” says Sherwood. It’s the people that can flip that switch and take action that are the survivors and help others to survive.

Sherwood adds that the main lessons he has found, is that we have much more inner strength than we know. “People have incredible strength inside themselves, and in an emergency, there is tremendous group strength to overcome adversity.”

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