Last week when I talked about safety in the backcountry, I had no idea I’d be struggling to find safety in my own city just a few days later. I was one of the millions caught stupidly unprepared for a crippling weather situation in Atlanta earlier this week–the infamous “Snowpocalypse.”
Snowpocalypse was a much-needed reminder of the risks and dangers of everyday life in urban environments. It demonstrated how much we take for granted and what we’ve become too reliant upon. That survival situations arise in both urban and backcountry scenarios. It’s all too easy to wrap ourselves in a false sense of security in our built environment.
In the aftermath, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about “Why didn’t you … (fill in the blank)?” or “Why couldn’t you have … (fill in the blank?)”
While I know these questions aren’t meant to be criticisms by most, they’re aggravating and myopic. Perplexed onlookers rightfully have lots of questions. But many of those questions drip with armchair quarterback bullshit. They attempt to simplify a very complex situation, in hindsight and without direct experience.
When things are going into the shitter the people involved don’t have the broad view that distant spectators have. When you are deeply entrenched in a rapidly changing, dangerous situation, you’re living moment to moment, with infinite unknowns. The best decision isn’t even remotely clear. And every decision has huge risks.
I was stranded in a huge city, yet still connected to a lot of information via my cell phone. Unfortunately, a lot of it wasn’t very useful. It didn’t address the challenges I needed to deal with at my location at any given moment. And there was so much coming from every different direction and resource. Making heads or tails of it was often fruitless, sometimes misleading. In fact, the distraction sometimes made managing the situation worse. Immersed in a stressful situation, it became harder and harder to distill the information down to what was useful to me. This creates a horrible feedback loop.
Keeping your wits about you
Your judgement becomes veiled when facing prolonged fatigue and stress in a survival scenario. When the enormity of the situation starts to creep into your thoughts, your decisions become impaired. So you begin making bad ones. Throw in all of the unknowns and it’s a recipe for disaster. If you can’t keep your wits about you, panic sets in and you’re done. You are no longer able to help yourself.
And this wasn’t just an individual scenario. This was a city-wide catastrophe. Imagine you’re completely surrounded by chaos. There’s little or no help to be had because everyone needs help. It’s completely overwhelming. There was a short time when it almost got me. Several things helped me get through those paralyzing moments:
- My Wilderness First Aid training helped me recognize the first signs of panic setting in and I was able to head them off.
- The “Mom” factor: I had my kids relying on me to keep them safe. I couldn’t lose my shit.
- I was connected to friends who talked me through it and would help me find the information I actually needed.
A big lesson
I’m grateful I had some survival knowledge to help me through. I’m also hugely grateful for the people who helped me along the way. Right now in the immediate aftermath, the biggest lesson I’m taking away from surviving Snowpocalypse is this —
Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands. ~ Jeff Cooper