Would You Survive a Disaster?

Depends on your gender, your reaction time, and a little luck. A new book shows how you can up your odds.

Most Popular
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

When Amanda Ripley set out to study the world's deadliest catastrophes for her new book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why, her family worried that she'd get depressed. After all, she'd be delving deep into the minds of people who endured tragedies ranging from the 9/11 attacks to the Asian tsunami. But in fact, says Ripley, a reporter for Time, "I actually found the whole thing encouraging. Once you talk to survivors and strip the mystery from a shocking event, you can see that the experience is never as frightening as you would imagine." Time and again, she says, people reported a sense of dreamlike calm: "They said, 'You know what? I thought I was going to die, but it wasn't really scary.'" Here, the author shares other key insights.

Most Popular

IN ANY UNEXPECTED CRISIS, THERE'S AN ODD SENSE OF LETHARGY. In other words, your brain is trying to sort out new and disturbing information, and it doesn't act fast. "The most startling thing I learned about 9/11 was the slowness with which people moved," says Ripley. "Many took the time to turn off their computers." But you can fight off that stupor — simply by knowing to expect it.

PEOPLE RARELY KNOW WHERE TO FIND AN EXIT — IN OFFICES, HOTELS, PLANES. "I always learn a couple of exits, so if I'm in a hotel and there's a fire, I know where to go," says Ripley. "Plane-crash survivors do the same thing." She also suggests keeping a pair of sneakers at work — high heels slowed women down on 9/11.

SOMETIMES IT HELPS TO BE A WOMAN IN A DISASTER. Women tend to fare better than men in events like hurricanes and floods. Why? "They're more likely to evacuate when they're advised to do so," says Ripley. "Men tend to take more risks." But to be fair to guys, she adds, research shows that men — especially blue-collar single men — are more likely to do heroic things, like risk their lives to save others. Cheers to that.

SURVIVING BY THE NUMBERS:

91% of Americans live in places with a moderate to high risk of natural disaster or terrorism.

65% of those who died in natural disasters from '85 to '99 came from undeveloped nations.

9% of heroic acts recorded from '89 to '93 were performed by women.

Culture
Share
Why Lesbian History Needs to Go Digital: A Look at All the Amazing Queer Women You've Never Heard Of
The founder of the popular Instagram @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y sets the record straight.​
Misty Copeland Barbie
Culture
Share
Misty Copeland Now Has Her Own Equally Fabulous Barbie Doll
The doll can even pose en pointe, too.
Culture
Share
Meet the 21 Badass Women Changing the Food World as We Know It
The James Beard Foundation's 2016 female nominees are forces of nature.
Culture
Share
Please Don't Sit on My Bed in Your Clothes
Just think about where your clothes have been.​
Tarot Cards
Culture
Share
Your Weekly Tarot Reading
​Here's what's in the cards for you the week of May 2.​
Culture
Share
12 Things We Learned from 'Game of Thrones' Last Night
"What is dead may never die" ...right?
Culture
Share
Watch Two Tinder Users Film Every Stage of Their First Date
It's an interesting perspective on modern dating.​
Culture
Share
You Can Now Get Married in Front of Cinderella's Castle at Disney World
This actually looks AMAZING.​
Culture
Share
Inside the Scandalous Life of JFK's Sister, Kick Kennedy
​A new book gives a peek into her relationship with her family, her marriage to a British nobleman and her secret affair with a married man.
Culture
Share
Here's What Weddings Looked Like the Year You Were Born
​Let's embark on a 100-year journey through the history of nuptials, shall we?​