book report #9: writing disasters

No, this isn’t about garbled dialogue or a 200,000 word manuscript. 

Or typing a hilariously scathing reply to an inane memo from your boss, and instead of sending it to your cubicle buddy you hit “reply all”.

We’re talking actual, matter-of-factual horrors.  I’ve found the perfect book for writers of action-adventure-tragedy, middle-grade, YA or adult.  (I love obscure but useful reference tomes.)  It’s The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley.  (Believe it or not.)

The Unthinkable explores the ways people react in emergency situations.  Amanda Ripley begins with one woman’s story of  9/11.  We’ve been told how well people executed the evacuation of the towers, but Ripley throws a new light on the behavior of the survivors.

Rather than leaving immediately, most people waited to be told what to do.  After the first plane crashed into the twin towers, the Port Authority actually advised workers to remain at their desks and wait for further instruction.  The “further instruction” never came.

Some people fled to the roof, which was locked.  Some stayed making phone calls and sending emails, gathering folders and briefcases, logging off their computers.  They soothed each other with theories about how a pilot could accidentally slam into the building. 

They milled around.  They couldn’t find the stairs.  They zoned out.

It took much longer to empty the twin towers than was physically necessary.  Investigators wanted to find out why.

9/11 victims have been interviewed extensively to learn how the human animal responds to catastrophe.  Scientists have identified the stages people go through.  Everyone passes through these stages, but the people who survive pass through the ineffective parts quicker than the people who become krispy kritters.

Chapters include the story of a man who refused to leave his home as Katrina bore down on New Orleans.  An analysis of  a supper club fire.  A stampede in Mecca.  Plane crashes.  Virginia Tech.

Denial.  Gathering.  Deliberation.  A person in a pickle must pass through these phases.

I repeat: pass through.

Too often they become stuck. 

In her conclusion, Ripley tells us that the two key elements of creating survivors instead of victims are information and practice.  But companies and governments usually shy away from such a simple solution.  They don’t want to panic the populace.  But studies confirm that people who know what to do in an emergency do not panic.

Need to know what motivates a hero?  How a panicked person really reacts?  How to get out of a plane crash alive? 

Here ya go.

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About Lisha Cauthen

Lisha Cauthen writes YA novels for guys that girls like to read too.

Posted on August 21, 2008, in book report, mind, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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