Running Toward Safety

As an officer, I’ve given countless presentations on personal safety. One maxim I unfailing mention: It’s not enough to run from danger, one must run toward safety. This is not intuitive. When a person’s fight or flight impulse is triggered, higher reasoning goes out the window — and that can make a bad situation worse.

Mention personal safety, and most people think small. Officers discuss how to make oneself less vulnerable, things to think about during a confrontation, and ways to keep your home safe from intrusion. But the bigger the emergency, the more likely it is you are going to be on your own — at least initially. Weather, fire, or floods may isolate you and your family for days.

Alamosa, Colorado. Emergency Ops Center. March 2008.

Large weather events are dynamic. Experts rely on models to help identify patterns and hazards, but models are based on statistical probabilities— and there is always a margin of error. Having worked in emergency operations centers, I can tell you that sometimes it’s obvious when an evacuation is needed. Other times? Well, not so much. 

Decisions are based on the best information available at the time. What is necessary one moment can change the next, but emergency service providers will always err on the side of safety. No one wants to leave their home. In fact, it’s human nature to devise reasons not to leave. A near miss is still a miss, and the more frequently we dodge danger, the more likely we are to think we can do it again. 

That mentality will get you hurt. 

Sometimes sheltering in place is the right decision. Sometimes it’s a necessity. Not everyone has the ability to evacuate, whether due to economics, disability, or other circumstances. Some preplanning, however, can go a long way to make a bad situation better. Every government website has preparedness guidelines and tips. Most agencies have resources to help those with special needs.

As a new cop, when my shift slowed down, I knew to expect my training officer to pepper me with what-if questions. He’d create emergency scenarios and quiz me about how I’d respond. The exercise broadened my thinking. It also lowered my stress level when I confronted a situation similar to what I’d already considered. 

I still play the what if game. I’m a fan of risk management—if it’s predictable, it’s usually preventable. But don’t confuse prepared with paranoid. I’ve worked and weathered plenty of critical incidents and I know my risk profile. Everyone has their own comfort level.

Hurricane Dorian went from a Category 1 to a Cat 4 storm in a blink. Winds traveling in excess of 145 mph wreak havoc and my county ordered mandatory evacuations of its high-risk zones. Worse? The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore began broadcasting from our hometown. No offense to Mr. Cantore, but his presence falls somewhat south of comforting — a fact playfully captured in one of the program’s commercials. It was time to leave.

Screenshot of The Weather Channel with Jim Cantore and a Hurricane Dorian graphic.

From the time it was first identified, the storm that grew into Dorian defied expectations. Dorian meandered along an unanticipated path, strengthened with unexpected ferocity into a Cat 5 with 180 mph winds, stalled for an unimaginable length of time over the Bahamas, and left heartbreaking devastation in its wake. Sadly, there will be more hurricanes, another earthquake, wildfire, or flood. Are you prepared? Where will you go? What will you take? Do you know where those items are? If you stay in your home and conditions worsen, which room is the safest? How can you make it more secure? Do you have first aid supplies, food, water, and other necessities? Thinking about these issues before an emergency will help you remain level-headed during the event.

It bears repeating. It’s not enough to flee danger. You must head toward safety. In my case, Dorian remained far enough off the coast of Florida that my husband and I could have weathered the storm had we chosen to stay.

But what if?

Stay safe ~ Micki Browning

2 thoughts on “Running Toward Safety

  1. Great piece, Micki. I had many conversations with neighbors as Dorian came our way. I had a plan to leave, and was ready to do so, until it became more certain it was going to pass by us 100 miles in the Atlantic. Still, I heard people say they’d stay even if it was forecasted to directly hit our town as a Cat 2. In my 30 years of Army and policing, I endured extreme conditions, but I knew I’d be powerless to help people crushed by a tree that fell on their house, or stabilize them with my first-responder medical skills for the possible 24-hour wait until winds died down and roads opened to allow fire and paramedics to get in. Besides, although I’ve endured it in field and combat zones with the Army, I have no desire to be stranded in an area with no running water, sewer, or electricity for the days it might take to rescue me if a hurricane were to decimate my community. Evacuating is a pain in the behind, but I’ll always run toward safety when I have the opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our experiences factor into our decisions. Those of us who have been through a critical incident of any sort are often keen to avoid another one if given the choice. While I can’t remember the exact number, I recently read that a high percentage of the current population of Florida has never experienced a landfall hurricane. Emergency personnel were concerned how that inexperience could lead to a cavalier attitude about the ferocity of storms. Floridians love to joke about staring down hurricanes, but the reality is Mother Nature can deliver quite the smack-down.


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