Security Overseas Seminar Teaches 'Be Prepared'

Posted by Kathe Conrad
August 29, 2008
Flood Waters in Buenos Aires

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.



New Mexico, USA
August 31, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

It is said that fear is the mind killer. Intinctually danger is met with one of three basic reactions, fight, flight, or fright.

In my experience in life threatening circumstance, it has usually gone down so quick I didn't have time to be afraid. The fear only manifest afterwards in physical manifestation of stress, and the spike of adrenalin's effects.

Time itself seems to slow down and that oddly enough may be the only reason I'm writing this, for it gave me the ability to make critical decisions.

I don't think my perception of time in a dangerous situation is unique, and I'm curious if this Seminar will discuss this aspect of awareness.

Some of my freinds in the military have equated it with "combat awareness" , hightened sensory imput, and my post-physical manifestation as a precursor of post tramautic stress disorder.

Fortunately my experiences have only been very brief in duration. As were the after-effects.

Kathe C.
District Of Columbia, USA
September 2, 2008

DipNote Blogger Kathe Conrad writes:

Thanks for your comment, Eric. You are not alone in your slow motion perception of time in dangerous situations. Ripley mentions this effect in her book and refers to studies which attribute this over estimation of elapsed time to the brain recording more memories than usual. The reaction of many people to disasters, according to Ripley, is denial and stunned bewilderment. They just can't believe it is happening to them.

New Mexico, USA
September 2, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Kathe, frankly, I didn't have time to question reality either...(chuckle).

20 years ago I drove a cab 12-16 hours a day, six days a week. Don't know whether it's an aquired trait or gut instinct, but if you you were ever my passenger, I could prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt I can still see around blind corners.

Heck, there may be evidence on this blog that this talent has manifest in my keen interest in foreign affairs as well over the years. But that's not for me to judge.

I don't read tea leaves.

My advice to folks is to listen to one's gut, and not to ignore it. We only use about 10% of the grey matter we were born with. It's that other 90% that works instinctually on a subconcious level that more than likely determines whether any concious training for disaster situations proves effectively internalized for survival.

Perhaps that helps answer why the fellow didn't "drop and roll" when he should have.

Thanks for your reply.


Latest Stories

January 19, 2017

What We Got Right

With a new administration taking office this week, it is natural to assess the inheritance it will receive from the… more