Most people expect those confronted with a major emergency will react in a somewhat predictable way. Well, the objective of this article is to establish what would the average person expect to happen and what actually happens during real emergency situations. Finally, identifying better organisational/business outcomes by conducting and being part of a business resilience framework and training.

Experiences from the survivor

Watching the latest action movie often ends up with a scene of catastrophic panic amongst members of a community somewhere in the world. It would seem quite normal for the average person to believe that such a reaction would probably be duplicated in similar real-world emergencies.

Local media reports often give us insight into how survivors reacted as they seek out survivor for interviews.  The negatives here are media tend to over dramatise what actually went on. It makes for better copy. From experience and often miraculous stories of survival.

Generally, people don’t panic during major emergencies and spiral into some sort of monster – similar to road rage during peak hour traffic. Survivors, often, want to tell their stories with a need to help others understand what it takes to protect oneself during life-threatening situations.

Many emergency managers are now listening to survivors and learning what really goes on in their mind and how we can better integrate emergency management systems. Keeping the community safer and helping those same communities recover much faster.

What actually happens when we are confronted with a major emergency

The brain goes to great lengths to try and fit what happening (during the emergency) “now”, into whats happened to them in the past. In other words, what experience an individual can successfully match with experiences from the past.

When the brain is unable to make even a partial match, confusion and potentially poor decisions are the results. We then tend to look at others for relevant information, that may help us understand what is happening and how we should respond. Almost any firefighter will tell you of a story when people were sitting in a smoke-filled environment not taking any action to keep themselves safe. Their brain couldn’t fit what was happening with past experiences, thus confusion was likely the result.

We try to normalise the situation and sort out an explanation for what is happening. There are three defined steps that one goes through and those are:

  • Denial – a denial that there is even an emergency.
  • Deliberation – This is where we rely on social interaction to make sense of what is going on. This is a very important factor in terms of survival.
  • Decisive moment – not everyone will reach this stage quickly, but those that do will likely lead others to safety or de-escalate the situation. Its the point where one has observed, orientated, made a decision and taken action (O.O.D.A)

Stage two, deliberation, can have a significant impact on the reaction of others. Each person will have a different experience and if there are gaps in such information. Another person within the social network of the emergency may be able to fill that gap. Thus, reaching a decisive moment and taking appropriate action to keep the group safe.

Emergency managers can make a difference

If your in charge of emergency management or health and safety at a facility you probably have a great business resilience plan template, which is great.  Furthermore, it’s important that you provide business resiliance training to employees and help them make an effective decision during an emergency.

All type of education from theory to practical sessions can help reinforce appropriate actions to help oneself keep safe. Most employees and other members of the community take first aid very seriously but are often lacking when it comes to general emergency response. Whether it’s responding to a fire, bomb threat or some other emergency. The reaction of individuals may be determined by how well you do your job.

Emergency managers who have little or no experience operating during actual emergencies may find it helpful to volunteer with the fire brigade, state emergency service or other emergency response organisation on their days off. Experience helping fill gaps!

Police, Ambulance and Fire Brigade

These organisations have relatively high expectations of the communities. Even so, they are often let down by the actions taken within the business environment. There is a void that can and should be filled and in Australia – AS 3745-2010, provides the base for preparing a business for emergencies.

Business resilience training from a little girls perspective

business and community resilience

There is a story of a little girl who learnt the possible signs of a Tsunami in school. While on holidays and enjoying a day at the beach she noticed that the sea was doing some abnormal things. The water was receding quite some distance and the turbulence was significant. The small amount of information she had was enough to see the significance of this situation.

She told her mother and father that a Tsunami was coming. To cut a long story short. Her father took her off the beach as he could see she was becoming further distressed. They sat in a restaurant having a drink, and to his credit, he decided to approach a waiter. Explaining what his daughter was worried about. The story was overheard by another tourist who indicated he had heard there had recently been an earthquake.

Together they agreed that it may be a Tsunami and all helped to clear the beach, including the little girl’s mother. The Tsunami hit and no one on the beach died that day.

None of these heroes had all the information but together they saved a lot of people.

In Conclusion

Information and business resilience training is the key to life safety during emergencies. There is always a possibility that some won’t be saved but with training and scenario exercises employees will better have the skills required to make appropriate decisions. Furthermore, helping businesses and communities prepare, respond and recover from emergencies.


By Ken Walker

Hi, I'm Ken. I am the owner and senior director of Syncretic training Group Pty Ltd. If you have any questions about the website content or require guidance please let us know we are always happy to help.

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