The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why - Amanda Ripley

I've always wondered how I would react in a disaster. My mother, who usually needs time to take in a situation, is oddly calm in the midst of a car accident - and I feel sure that would translate into worse disasters. LL has more trouble with a car not starting then a serious medical issue - he's my rock. But I've never been sure how I'd react; I'm honest enough to think it might not be well. I can easily shrug off minor issues but major ones generally knock me for a loop.


David Eagleman (now neuroscientist) fell and experienced the Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole - in slow motion, "the thing is, the fall took forever".  -p. 49

I was amazed to read this part, as I've always considered it one of the more fantastical aspects of the story.


Amanda Ripley's book uses case studies of specific disasters, as well as an overarching look at 9/11 to explore various aspects of the human response to disasters. She does a wonderful job of balancing readability with knowledge and I learned a great deal. Ripley was also no afraid to test herself, going through a training course for flight attendants to see how she responded, knowing what she did.


English Schoolgirl Tilly Smith (Thailand,2004) had just studied tsunamis in class and learned the signs. By warning her parents and they their fellow beach people, she helped make the beach one of few in Phuket where no one was killed or seriously injured. -p. 65


There was so much in this book, I have no doubt I'll read this again. And I'm hoping a similar book printed after this one can be found as I'm sure more research has come out since it's printing. Many things struck me but one of the main elements I still consider is the need to educate and prepare everyday people for the disaster most likely to occur in their area. Despite this idea of not "causing a panic," often the best defense and the best way to save lives is learn, prepare, and practice. From a young girl on a beach, a security man in one of the Twin Towers, to a town that has written and practiced it's own evacuation plan, it is us, not FEMA, Firemen, etc. who will be the first on the scene. While the book can't save you, it does get you to think and plan how you can survive.


John Sorensen (director of Emergency Management Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory TN) "offered to develop easy-to-understand brochures to help people prepare for chemical and biological attacks in the late 1990s, the Federal Emergency Management Agency told him, 'We're not in the business of terrifying the public.'"


Dennis  Mileti (disaster expert): "Do you know how many Americans have died because someone thought they would panic if they gave them a warning? A lot." -p. 157