We are never truly prepared for a catastrophic event but we spend plenty of time worrying about what we are going to do in one situation or another. We as human beings, much like animals, are hard-wired with survival skills; though sometimes our brains don’t always choose the right response. There are different tendencies the human brain leans toward in a life-threatening event or situation. Situational awareness and normalcy bias are two main tendencies that are displayed in disasters or extreme stress situations. These responses are not only achieved by experiencing a traumatic event but also by high risk activities such as sky diving and skiing. In the following paragraphs I will discuss how the brain responds to catastrophes and risky situations and how it can be a matter of survival and death.
We all respond in different ways in the event of a disaster. But there are a few key things that happen to everyone in an event. In the first chapter of The Unthinkable, Zedeno states she was overwhelmed with a feeling of peace and calm when she found herself trapped in an elevator in the World Trade Center during the attempted detonation of a car bomb. During the events of September 11th, it was also pointed out by Zedeno that she observed co-workers making phone calls and shutting down their computers, not realizing the urgency of the situation. In most instances people fall into a kind of fog where they have a hard time focusing on the reality of the situation. This tendency is called normalcy bias. This “fog” causes people to underestimate the disaster and its effects. People also tend to interpret warnings in the most optimistic way possible, making the situation seem less serious (Spalding).
Our brains often perceive danger and prepare us for "fight or flight” in which we lose control over ourselves and the situation. With our fight or flight response coupled with normalcy bias one would wonder how any human could survive a catastrophic event (Swink). Thankfully, there is another mental state we have the ability to enter. The state is referred to as situational awareness. This involves being aware of what is happening around you and understanding the events and how certain actions will impact one’s immediate future and the future of others in the same predicament (Swink). Being in this state allows a person to make fast, effective decisions which can be life-saving. In contrast to being in fight or flight mode, or a state of shock, this state enables you to think clearly, listen to the things going on around you and breathe deeply allowing us to act effectively (Swink).
You don’t have to be in a disastrous situation to find yourself in a state of situational awareness. Skydivers, snowboarders and pilots all use this adrenaline surge to stay focused and calm in high intensity situations where a quick decision is necessary. Even Fernando Parrado, a survivor of the 1972 Uruguayan plane crash, took up professional automobile racing after his...