Tresnit: Strengthen your crisis response | Opinion
Opinion: You’re totally prepared until you’re not.
The phrase “emergency preparedness” probably brings to mind images of earthquakes and other natural disasters, but my brain is still reeling from the events of last weekend and conjures up spilled bleach instead. My roommates and I managed to spill an entire gallon of bleach in our living space and nearly poisoned ourselves in the ensuing freakout. The incident gave me a new perspective on my response to emergencies, and I, like many other members of the general public, have some serious room for improvement.
Although I tend to think of myself as a reasonable and quick-thinking person, my composure often falls apart immediately when faced with a potentially dangerous situation. I once started a small microwave fire and instead of turning the machine off or getting a fire extinguisher, I stared at it for a few seconds and thought “I bet this is what a time machine would look like. ” It’s safe to say that my emergency response skills could use some work.
This time, however, I was initially proud of myself. I paced the floor and called my mother in a panic like a real adult. My roommates and I opened every window in the apartment and poured cold water on the bleach stain while wiping it with paper towels. This worked fine for about three minutes until we all got light-headed and decided some fresh air was in order. I distinctly remember sitting in my pajamas (I’m a blast on Saturday nights) in the lobby of my building drinking bottled coffee and wondering how many brain cells I had lost.
It was around this time that we started to figure out how to get rid of the smell. The good news is that our plan worked and the apartment smelled normal after a few days. Unfortunately, the method we used is known in scientific circles as “making chlorine gas.” That’s right, we tackled the overwhelming bleach with vinegar.
Fortunately we are all still alive and functioning, but I have been kicking myself for over a week now. The phrase “lose your head in a crisis” keeps running through my mind, and I know I’m guilty of it. We all have a tendency to think that we’ll know just what to do when disaster strikes, but when faced with a situation that requires quick action, it’s not always easy to do exactly the right thing not. However, it is important to slow yourself down and consider the risks of anything you do to try to mitigate the problem.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Researching tips for staying calm in a crisis turns up list upon list of advice, like “breathe,” and if you’re anything like me, it’s infuriating—especially bad when your crisis is a mess of bleach. There seems to be no practical advice for handling emergency situations responsibly without making mistakes. While I can’t offer you a foolproof method for handling every catastrophe with grace, I can share what I’ve found useful in the time since the spill: the old saying “think before you act.” Taking a moment to think about the possible consequences of your actions can prevent you from making a bad situation worse. It is important to move quickly, but it is not more important than saving yourself from greater harm.
Of course, you can’t be constantly prepared for every possible emergency, but having a general idea of how you can act can’t hurt. I’ve been browsing disaster preparedness resources this week, and I’m already feeling better with a loose survival plan. The bleach was a freak accident and not really something I could have prepared for, but going forward I know what not to do if I spill a chemical indoors.
Experience is a good teacher, but I imagine it’s even more fun to avoid almost poisoning yourself. Don’t forget to evaluate your decisions before you make an emergency situation even worse.