What would you do in a public emergency?

With the recent terrible attacks in Charlottesville and Barcelona, we thought here at Unclutterer that it would be a good idea to review some basic things to consider when faced with a public emergency.

Be prepared. Familiarize yourself with the venue’s layout. Pay attention to the location of medical tents, first aid stations, washrooms, and escape routes. Also pay attention to dead-ends, you don’t want to become trapped in a space where there is no exit.

Be aware of your surroundings at all times. If you get the slightest feeling that something may be wrong, you need to listen to your instincts and act fast. If you see something that doesn’t seem right, such as a rapid increase in the crowds in your area or perhaps a suspicious loner that doesn’t seem to belong, it’s probably a good time to find the nearest exit.

If you’re caught in a crowd, think of it as a flowing river — swim with the current and slowly make your way to the edge.

Prior to the event, choose a meeting spot in case anyone gets separated from the group. Ensure everyone has each other’s phone number. It is helpful to have a contact outside the event that can be called to coordinate planning should something go wrong at the event. In large crowds, mobile phones get lost and damaged so being able to contact someone outside the event is helpful.

Take photos of your group or yourself if alone — share them with your friends at the event and your contact outside the event. If you get lost or separated, you can show a photo of your friend and say, “Have you seen this guy/gal?” Authorities will also want to know a detailed description of what your friend was wearing. Your memory may not work so well under stress so having a photo is helpful.

Now for what to do if something horrible does happen.

First off, stay calm. This is probably the hardest thing to do. With chaos around you, it’s human nature to panic and when we panic, we end up doing things that we normally wouldn’t ever consider doing (I knew someone that in an armed robbery started grabbing people and pulling them on top of her, something she was horrified for having done afterwards). As much as possible, try to keep your thoughts clear and practical.

Next, make sure you’re safe, and if as long as you don’t put yourself at risk, help others get safe too. In most cases, this means getting as far away from the situation as possible, but that may not be possible. For example, exits may be blocked or as happened in Charlottesville, there were so many people in the street and there was nowhere to go. After the Barcelona attack, my husband and I had a conversation about how we always know where we would go in case of emergency. We read evacuation plans in hotels and tend not to put ourselves in situations where there are limited exits. We also talked about how the intuitive way out might not be the best. For example, we live on the ocean. If something happened while we were on the beach, intuition would suggest heading inland, but it may be better to head out into the water where it’s less likely we’d be trampled.

Of course, once you are safe and away, let friends and family know that you’re fine. They’ll be worried about you. Facebook, for example, has a function that they turn on in such situations, allowing you to let all your contacts know that you’re safe and sound.

If you’ve had some sort of first aid training, or see something you can do without putting yourself in danger, do it. As I mentioned above about panic, in emergency situations it’s human nature to think of ourselves first and to maybe cause others harm inadvertently. Maybe the best way you can help is to get out of the way, but if you see someone suffering and it’s in your power to do something, take a deep breath and offer assistance.

When the worst of the situation has passed, find out what you can do to help. Whether it’s donating blood, clothing or food, or volunteering in whatever manner is being requested, it is actions that count. It’s all well and good to express your horror and support publicly via social networks and minutes of silence, but real assistance comes from doing something productive, not just making ourselves feel better with words and flowers.

In this age of social media, it’s important to remember to put your smartphone away and do not distribute images or videos of the tragedy unless asked to do so by authorities. Most of us are not reporters and it’s not our job to inform the world of what’s happening. When my father had a terrible swimming accident, I was shocked that I actually had to tell someone to get out of the way of the paramedics and stop gawking. And the man was hovering about with his phone, as if he wanted to take a picture or something. Watching the news about the Barcelona attack, I was horrified to see people taking selfies while the police were cordoning off the area. Remember that the person you’re filming is someone’s mother, brother, or child and imagine how you would feel if it was your loved one.

And finally, check your facts before spreading information. With news and rumors easily confused online, it’s important to take a moment and make sure that what you are about to share is real.

The Unclutterer site has quite a lot of information about emergency preparedness and I suggest taking a moment to check out our archives to make sure that you know what to do when life takes a tragic turn.

6 Comments for “What would you do in a public emergency?”

  1. posted by Cindi Ambrose on

    Thank you for posting this. It’s the first time I’ve seen anything on this topic and it’s well done -which is the standard for Unclutterer. It’s necessary information for today’s world. Practical and helpful tips for how to manage safety and communications and stay out of the way of first responders. Well done!

  2. posted by marc on

    You watch too much fake news. Charlottesville and Barcelona are not comparable in any way.

  3. posted by zilla on

    A long, long time ago, the Canadian TVGuide (now defunct for many years), started to run a series of articles by foreign news correspondents about what they learned about the cities they went to. The first article was a puff-piece but the second told it like it is – when you get to a new place, the first thing you do is figure out how to get out in a hurry. While this is obviously important for correspondents, who often are in potentially violent situations, it should be followded even by us, normal people, who might have to exit quickly . It only takes a second to be be prepared and it could save your life.

  4. posted by zilla on

    marc, you missed the point of Alex’s article. The point is to be prepared for unusual cirmstances. Yes, there is a difference between driving a car into a crowd and opening fire on a crowd but the effects of the action is the same – panic. Confusion. A need to get safe. Prepared to get out of the way quickly and leave the scene up to the rescue crews.

  5. posted by Kenneth in Virginia on

    This article sounds like how to handle yourself in a riot or a disorderly soccer tournament. Fair enough, but that’s not the sort of emergency we’re most likely to face, although I suppose it is for some. Nothing in the article sounded like anything like the circumstances and subsequent events after either 9/11 in New York or the Boston Marathon bombing, neither of which are also something common. And likewise, nothing is mentioned about weather emergencies, which affect far more people and with some frequency.

  6. posted by Joanne on

    CBS Sunday morning had a piece on the unintended waste and expense created when we(individuals and groups) send things: clothing, water, toys etc rather than donate money when any tragedy occurs. I didn’t understand how the massive amounts could have been sent to these places. Why were we all not informed that this well intended generosity would be much more helpful if it was given in money. The helping agencies can purchase what is really needed and it reduces unnecessary shipping. Another suggestion was to set up gift registries- so the agencies can list what is needed and what needs have been fulfilled. This Sunday morning piece was an eye opener. I had no idea how great this problem could be- the ultimate clutter.

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