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Improving your response to disaster

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

With exposure to catastrophes increasing, researchers are looking at ways to sharpen our response mechanisms, activate our leadership abilities and increase our odds for survival.

During a disaster, survivors say almost nothing happened the way they would have expected. Here’s what we can glean from their experiences:

Decide and act. Oddly enough, most people shut down in a crisis, becoming still and docile. Rather than panicking, they fall into a stupor. You can snap out of it by thinking about your loved ones, especially the children. Another way is to quickly consider your options, choose one and act.

People who respond well to trauma tend to believe they can influence outcomes, find purpose in chaos and learn from the experience, good or bad.

Train for the worst case. Drill for fires and other emergencies. Keep these drills as unexpected as possible, but at the same time, plan for them rigorously with floor marshals, established escape routes and viable alternatives.

Before 9/11, Morgan Stanley’s head of security, Rick Rescorla, taught employees to save themselves, and on that fateful day, he led 2,687 of them to safety. In the event of a burning plane, many flight attendants now are trained to shout: “Get out! Get out! Go!”

Trust people to do their best. People respond well to leadership in a disaster. If you ask them to, they will rise to the occasion, following their leader—CEO or headwaiter— almost anywhere. There’s no need for anxiety or paralysis. This is your moment to lead.

—Adapted from The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes—and Why, Amanda Ripley, Crown Publishers.


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