COLUMN: In emergencies don't panic, think the situation through

Friday, August 6, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:54 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 6, 2010

In the past two weeks, lightning has struck my power lines twice. Because we have been visited by major tornadoes, electrical storms make my neighbors and me nervous.

Nevertheless, I resist seeking shelter and always wait out the storm, alone. People are always asking me why I don't go someplace where there are other people. The reason is simple: I learned many years ago that people are often killed in these disasters not by the disaster itself, but because they panic and make bad decisions.

I learned that lesson the easy way. I worked for a company that developed a plan for evacuating its employees in case of fire. In case a fire alarm sounded, since I was the person nearest the back door of our department, I was designated as the person to check the map of the building to determine where the fire was located, which would let me know in what direction the employees were to evacuate. The employees were to remain in the department until I gave them directions to leave.

Sure enough, one day the alarm sounded. I hurried out the back door to check the map to see where the fire was located. When I returned to give instructions my department was empty. As it turned out the employees had evacuated by the same exit that the map indicated was on fire.

Fortunately, it was only a test. I informed my employer that I would no longer function in that position. I had, however, learned a life lesson. When some human beings feel they are in danger, they panic. Not everyone grew up with my grandfather who warned my siblings and me early in life that when you lose your head you have lost everything. He meant, of course, that you had lost your ability to think.

This is the one thing I have tried to pass on to my son and other young people. I know so many adults who feel threatened by any abnormality they encounter. They never stop to think the situation through. If a stranger rings their doorbell, they assume a burglar is attempting to find out if anyone is at home before making a home invasion. They actually panic when the television goes on the blink and assume that they are personally being conspired against.

The fact is, many people act before they have the necessary information to make an informed decision.

In any case, in the event of any emergency, I tend to separate myself from other people. I remember my brother telling me that when a scaffold collapsed beneath him and he was on the fourth floor of a building, he remembered my grandfather's words and he mentally aimed his body toward a sand pile he knew was on the ground level. He fell in the sand pile, uninjured.

I don't know whether it's all this irresponsible, scary talk on television or what, but over the past few years the level of fear seems to have escalated to the point where some are literally afraid of their own shadow.

In the 17 years that my cat lived with me, I was amazed at the number of people who are afraid of being attacked by cats. Actually, I have never known anyone who was attacked by a healthy cat.

Anyway, I'm not so concerned that anyone will hurt these frightened people as much as I fear that because they are so panic-stricken they will hurt themselves. Another area of concern is all of the disclaimers concerning the medications that are apparently being prescribed for people by their physicians. I just wonder when people present this information if they are aware that there are others in the audience who will abandon their medication without consulting their doctors.

As a citizen and a writer, I truly believe that the free flow of public information is healthy in a democratic society, but it worries me when material is presented which is false and misleading. Let's face it. There are individuals who believe everything they hear on television is true.

Unfortunately, every invention or new technology that is meant for a good purpose can be converted into something harmful and dangerous. This business of frightening people with questionable information is just one more thing that Americans are doing to harm themselves.

Remember when television shut down by midnight? More and more each day, I'm beginning to think of that as a good thing. Certainly, there are probably enough things going on in the world to fill a 24-7 news cycle, but I'm not sure that I need to hear about them all. Ignorance may be blissful, but it is not preferable to being bombarded by questionable false information.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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