Emergency preparedness and management ensure minimal risks for populations in case of future disasters. The process of emergency management involves the identification and assistance of the most-at-risk populations (Aldrich & Benson, 2008). Such populations include children and the elderly from low-income communities where access to mutual resources is limited. The lessons learned from Amanda Ripley and Thomas et al. (2008) can help bolster emergency preparedness and management efforts.

Lessons Learned from Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley

From an emergency management perspective, there are about five lessons that can be learned from “Unthinkable” by Amanda Ripley.

The first lesson is that potential victims and responders must understand the survival arc that victims of disasters undergo as a way of getting from danger to safety (Ripley, 2008). Denial should be understood in terms of a victim’s shut-down symptoms or tendencies of giving up. The deliberation phase as the second one involves the victim realizing that something is wrong, but there is no definite plan on what he/she can follow to get out of the situation (Ripley, 2008). At this point, Ripley recommends the need to help the victim to stop, think, observe, and make plans to find safety. The decisive and final moment is when one understands that they are in danger and need to go out of it. The survival arc is thus a brief directive that victims and first responders can utilize in quick or timely movement from danger to safety.

The second lesson learned from “Unthinkable” by Amanda Ripley is that risk communication is an essential factor in disaster management. Ripley indicates that once a particular situation is determined to be dangerous, it is crucial that the risk involved is communicated to those that could be potentially harmed (Ripley, 2008). Warnings are critical components of disaster management. Such alerts must, however, be made to be easily understood, frequently repeated, personal, targeted, specific, and coherent (Ripley, 2008). The above characteristics of the ideal warning are meant to trigger a personal initiative for those at risk to move from danger to safety. Risk communication is thus an essential function in disaster management.

Thirdly, Amanda Ripley provides an important lesson on the right attitude for one to adopt amid a crisis situation. The attitude that should be instilled in those at risk amid a disaster situation is overcoming fear, being resilient, and adequately managing group influence (Ripley, 2008). Proper disaster preparedness is required to decrease the fear factor among those in impending danger. Instilling resilience limits the potential for post-traumatic stress disorder and thus the need for emergency response programs to instill this quality in the masses. Lastly, it is important for those at risk to understand and manage group influence as it is not the best option in unusual scenarios (Ripley, 2008). Addressing fear, resilience, and group influence are thus important in effecting the shortest reaction time to ensure survival from danger.

Another important lesson from “Unthinkable” by Amanda Ripley is the importance of addressing panic and paralysis in disaster preparedness and management. People must be sensitized about the concept of panic as it is often amplified by the interaction with others in the same situation (Ripley, 2008). Responders should not blame victims for panic but should instead address it as a trigger to move from danger to safety. First aiders must also understand paralysis as a concept and thus treat disaster victims in a dignified way that does not compromise health standards when they regain consciousness (Ripley, 2008). Panic and paralysis concepts must thus be adequately addressed as they are part of victim response to disasters.

A further lesson by Amanda Ripley includes the need to address the issue of heroism in emergency situations. According to Ripley (2008), heroism involves the tendencies of some individuals to help others escape danger. Even so, such individuals may not be experts in being first responders and can put their lives at risk as well as those of others. Emergency management agencies must address this concept by emphasizing the need for people to ensure their safety first before helping others (Ripley, 2008). Like the concepts of panic and fear, heroism should equally be addressed while managing social attitudes towards emergency response.

Key Lessons Learned from Social Vulnerability to Disasters (according Thomas et al)

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The first lesson on social vulnerability to disasters, according to Thomas et al. (2013), is the need for emergency response agencies to tailor emergency response activities for low-income children and the elderly. Thomas et al. (2013) bemoan the lack of information and research on emergency response for elderly and children as it leads to confusion and rescue effort failure amid disasters. Disasters can occur while the elderly are not at home and while children are away from their parents. It is thus important that child-care centers and schools have the capacity and are prepared to handle disasters when they occur. Thomas et al. (2013) thus recommend the need for proper planning and decision-making as well as research in reducing the risk of low-income children and the elderly in times of disasters.

The second lesson is that emergency management efforts should be geared towards promoting equal access to resources for most-at-risk populations. Unequal access to resources usually impacts emergency response experience for the elderly and children during disasters (Thomas et al., 2013). Those children and elderly from poor backgrounds and low-income families have limited access to healthcare, poor nutrition, and limited access to health insurance. In the US setting, according to Thomas et al. (2013), the children and elderly Native American Indians, Latinos, Asians, and African-Americans range below the national poverty level. The lack of capacity by families to help the two vulnerable groups, thus compromises their safety, especially during emergencies. It is thus important to promote equal access to the mentioned resources to enable copying with disasters and resumption of normal life post-disaster for children and the elderly.

The third lesson is that diseases and disabilities increase the risks involved in disasters for vulnerable groups, especially the elderly, and thus a need to incorporate proper patient care in emergency preparedness. According to Thomas et al. (2013), about 80% of the US elderly have at least one chronic condition. Such conditions include respiratory disorders, arthritis, and diabetes (Aldrich & Benson, 2008). Those with sufficient resources are capable of surviving disasters and the associated post-disaster effects. Even so, those without the resources face the risk of injuries and death in cases of attempting to escape from disasters to safety. It is thus necessary, according to Thomas et al. (2013), that resources are put in place to ensure that the vulnerable elderly do not fail to have proper shelter, medicine, and food in preparation for disasters. Disaster preparedness efforts should thus cater to the sick and disabled to minimize injuries and deaths.

Another lesson is the need to emphasize the provision of social support for socially vulnerable groups. Social support from families and friends, even in low-income communities can promote positive psychological outcomes for the most vulnerable groups (Thomas et al., 2013). Social support can also promote additional coping tactics to minimize the effects of post-traumatic stress disorders and anxiety associated with disasters. Emergency response agencies should thus promote efforts on social support programs to ensure safety for the vulnerable who feel unprotected and socially defenseless in the wake of disasters.

The last lesson on social vulnerabilities is the need to eradicate gender differences in responding to disasters. Usually, heroism is associated with males, while women are considered feeble and unable to care for themselves amid disasters (Thomas et al., 2013). It is necessary that emergency management agencies destroy such a notion to minimize the number of males who die during disasters in the attempt of heroic acts of saving others without the capacity to do so. More females should thus be involved in emergency management to enable them to cope adequately with disasters without feeling vulnerable groups (Thomas et al., 2013). The measure can help in increasing the number of first responders in the future.


From the discussion above, lessons from Ripley (2008) include the need for understanding the survival arc, risk communication, proper attitude amid crises, and addressing panic, paralysis, and heroism. The lessons on social vulnerabilities during disasters mainly include the need to avail resources to the elderly and children while destroying gender factors that limit the participation of women in first response efforts. These lessons can help bolster emergency preparedness and management efforts.

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