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How would you face danger or disaster?

by Lori Hoeck on June 5, 2009

If someone attacked you, what would you do?
What if you had been at the Virginia Tech massacre on April 16, 2007?

If you faced a natural disaster, could you cope?
What if you had been trying to shelter in the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath?


Photo credit Ingrid Taylar

If an emergency popped up in front of you, would you be able to handle it?
What if you had been a passenger aboard US Airways Flight 1549 as Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger landed in the Hudson River last January?

People can react at least five ways to these kinds of survival situations:

  • They become hysterical.
  • They panic and trample others trying to save themselves.
  • They freeze completely as mind and body shut down.
  • They act like they are God’s gift to the survival world.
  • They start responding and coping.

Do you know how you would react? Have you been tested or trained to move past the frozen or freak out mode?

According to Amanda Ripley in her Time Magazine article from June 9, 2008 on “How to Survive a Disaster,” people more often freeze when faced with survival situations. She writes, “Contrary to popular expectations … Crowds generally become quiet and docile. Panic is rare. The bigger problem is that people do too little, too slowly. They sometimes shut down completely, falling into a stupor.”

She adds, “Our brains search, under extreme stress, for an appropriate survival response and sometimes choose the wrong one, like deer that freeze in the headlights of a car.”

The same kind of response can happen to people facing an attacker.

According to Ripley, the key to survival is learning a skill set. In her article, various people refer to the skill set as “a knowing,” “a blueprint,” or “a ritual to follow.” If a person has never thought through danger, disaster, or self defense, there is nothing to fall back on as an instinctive response.

We all remember when the planes hit the twin towers in New York City on 9-11. People that day reacted stunned and amazed, just as Ripley explains. New Yorkers at that moment had no point of reference.

But recently when Air Force One flew very low into New York City airspace, it sparked a memory of that very past. Those who saw the plane at what seemed skyscraper height had a very stark and powerful point of reference. Hundreds of people evacuated their buildings in response. Many of them flooded elevators shaking, sweating, and crying — all of them thinking the worse.

But they were moving, taking action, and grabbing what control over the situation they could because they had a “blueprint” from few years back to guide them.

Fortunately, people with even a small sense of control over their situation perform better that those who believe they have no control. When you realize you have options, you are enabled to take more effective action.

In self defense situations, the more you know about your own skills and the flow of physical, mental or emotional violence, the more likely you will be to respond in a way that keeps you safe.

This website is dedicated to providing that self defense knowledge. I hope you subscribe to stay current with the articles and discover more about keeping you and your family safer.

Take-away exercise:

  • Put yourself in the situations I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Which of the five ways do you think you would react to the situations? Would you be the robot in Lost in Space waving his arms and yelling “Danger, Will Robinson. Danger!” or would you be able to face it like Bruce Willis’ character in the Die Hard movies?


Thank you for visiting and learning about self defense.
If you think others can benefit, please pass it on!

Lori Hoeck

{ 5 trackbacks }

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1 Davina June 5, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Hi Lori. This is a great post. It’s hard to honestly say how I would react in an emergency. I’ve been in a few scary situations that popped in with no warning. I usually respond real quick and do what I need to do. In some cases, I freeze for a few seconds, digest what is happening, and then I act. Later, the shaking sets in :-) This something to keep in mind and not easily tossed into an emergency kit.

2 Lori Hoeck June 5, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Hi Davina,
Thank you!
I’m happy to read you respond to times like these with forward movement and action. It is hard to say because if emergencies could be planned for they would be everyday events! BTW, I’ll be writing about the adrenaline rush that leaves us shaky in a future post. :-)

3 Betsy June 6, 2009 at 7:26 am

Hi Lori – I’m a get’r'done and fall apart after it’s over kind of gal, too. The most notable instance was a car fire that we came upon years ago, pulling the couple inside out before it was completely engulfed. I don’t stop to think. I just do.

My husband and I were recently discussing what we would do in the case of disaster. His family’s long-standing plan has been to meet up in a pre-determined location. All I could do was cringe at the thought of having to make my last stand with his sisters. I’d have to punch one of them out cold and slap the other one silly so she’d mind what to do. :D

Seriously, though, people should think about things in exactly the way you’re suggesting. I blogged about it some time ago with the title “What Are You Made Of?” or something like that. Great post.

4 Lori Hoeck June 6, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Hi Betsy,
Thank you. Awesome to read you were so there for that couple.
And if just for family harmony, I hope you never have to face disaster!

5 Barbara Swafford June 8, 2009 at 1:25 am

Hi Lori,

What if? Great question. When I think back on situations where I had to act, or not. I found myself first freezing for a moment, and then taking responding and coping.

I think it’s important to raise this question with our family and friends. Too often we “don’t want to talk about it”, and then when disaster strikes, many are left asking , “now what?”

6 Lori Hoeck June 8, 2009 at 6:43 am

Hi Barbara,
A lot of black belt training is about dealing with the What ifs until we can flow through situations instead of freezing.

One way I teach it is this: I doubt many of us would go into a job interview unprepared, so why not put a little thought into something that matters more — personal safety for you and your family.

7 jan geronimo June 14, 2009 at 3:03 am

You’ve raised a very useful point here. We are not exactly strangers to mapping out blueprints for worst-case scenarios like disasters. We each have contingencies prepared for nasty situations: teaching children how to handle themselves when they get lost, when a stranger talks or befriends them. What to do in medical emergency.

We have some grounding on the matter. We only have to raise our state of preparedness several notches since disasters are very daunting indeed. You’ve brought up a very valuable point, Lori. Indeed it’s high time we mapped out our response to this kind of emergencies to avoid/minimize the cost to life, limb and property.

8 Lori Hoeck June 15, 2009 at 8:16 am

Hi Jan,
I’ll write about this in future posts, but blueprints are just the starting point for staying safer. You need that kind of “base of mental operations” when something goes unexpectedly wrong, but at the same time, emergencies, violence, and disasters can be so fluid you may find sheer determination becoming more important at certain times.

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