About the Author: Kathe Conrad is the Security Overseas Seminar Coordinator at the Foreign Service Institute."I am at a gas station filling my car up when I notice out of the corner of my eye a man at the next pump is suddenly on fire. I watch in stunned disbelief as he starts running across the parking lot. My brain finally overrides the disbelief that has me rooted next to my car. I yell and run after him, pushing him to the ground and beating out the flames. Why didn't he stop, drop, and roll like we were all taught in high school? Why didn't he do what he knew he was supposed to do?"
A former Diplomatic Security Special Agent related this anecdote and posed the question in one of my Security Overseas Seminar classes. The answer is that in crisis situations our brains sometimes get scrambled. Even if we know what to do, unless we have actually practiced our actions, the stress of a traumatic situation may trigger the wrong response. During the 1998 East Africa bombings of our embassies, for example, many people heard the sound of a small explosion and ran to the windows to see what was happening. Many were cut by the flying glass from the windows in subsequent explosions.
The subject of why we react the way we do in crisis situations is the subject of a new book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why, by senior Time Magazine staffer Amanda Ripley. In the book, Ripley interviews survivors from 9/11, floods, hostage situations and other traumatic events as well as experts on psychological and emotional responses to these kinds of situations. The big message of her book coincides with that of the Security Seminars –- be prepared! Participate in drills!
Ripley will be one of the speakers at the upcoming Private Sector Security Overseas Seminar (PSOS) at the Foreign Service Institute on September 11-12th. The Foreign Service Institute's Transition Center, in collaboration with the Overseas Security Advisory Council, reaches out twice a year to the private sector on a limited basis to share its security strategies and information on topics such as current threat trends, surveillance and bomb recognition, environmental threats, and the human side of crisis management. Those wishing to register for PSOS must be Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) constituents. However, there is no fee for becoming a constituent. Information on becoming an OSAC constituent along with the registration form and information can be found on OSAC's website.