This seems like a good time to recommend Amanda Ripley’s excellent book The Unthinkable, which examines why (and how) some people survive catastrophes and others don’t. She examines 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, a hotel fire, a stampede at Mecca, and the Virginia Tech mass shooting, among other incidents. It’s a fascinating book, and also hugely practical.
Katrina seems most relevant now, with Hurricane Matthew bearing down on us. Ripley reports that, although a lot of the press coverage of the victims focused on poverty: “The victims of Katrina were not disproportionately poor; they were disproportionately old. Three-quarters of the dead were over sixty, according to the Knight Ridder analysis. Half were over seventy-five.”
She then launches into a discussion of how bad most of us are at risk assessment. You know: how we dread sharks and terrorist attacks when we really should be dreading car crashes and household accidents. She also talks about the perils of arrogance (“about 90 percent of drivers think they are safer than the average driver”) and overconfidence:
When it comes to old-fashioned risks like weather, we often overestimate ourselves. Of the fifty-two people who died during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, for example, 70 percent drowned. And most of them drowned in their cars, which had become trapped in floodwaters. This is a recurring problems in hurricanes. People are overconfident about driving through water, even though they are bombarded with official warnings not to. (This tendency varies, of course, depending on the individual. One study out of the University of Pittsburgh showed that men are much more likely to try to drive through high water than women—and thus more likely to die in the process.)”
Hurricanes are especially tricky because we have to respond to them before things get ugly. We have to evacuate when the skis are clear and blue….It’s hard to image the violence to come. Without any tangible cues, denial comes easily.
In general, she reports, elderly people don’t like to evacuate: “In
1989 1979, after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, retirees and people over age seventy were least likely to evacuate—regardless of how close they were to the reactor.”
Also, elderly people are at particularly risk for over-valuing past experiences (relative to current conditions) in their decision-making. This appears to be a particular trap in highly complex and variable events like hurricanes. Ripley reports on an elderly Katrina victim who, when his kids urged him to evacuate, quite reasonably pointed out that his house had survived thirty years of hurricanes and so should also survive Katrina. But what he—and pretty much everyone else—hadn’t counted on was that decades of technohubris-fueled, under-regulated development and “starve-the-government” GOP policies had decimated the wetlands and levees that had previously protected the city from big hurricanes. And so, like so many others, he drowned.
Best to all Juicers who are in Matthew’s path. Please evacuate EARLY and check in as best you can throughout the weekend. And here’s a thread for sharing everyone’s hurricane-related experiences and suggestions and good wishes. (After Matthew has piddled out, I’ll post another thread with some of Ripley’s more general survival tips – plus my own experience with an earthquake in Japan.)