As I write this post, one of the hot news topics is the safe landing of a Southwest Airlines flight that had an engine explode in mid-air, putting a hole in the side of the plane and creating a serious emergency that involved the death of one passenger. The pilot, Tammie Jo Shults, was a Navy fighter pilot with extensive training in dealing with emergency situations.
Last weekend, the crew of the small boat I sail on took several hours to practice “man overboard” drills. We threw a dummy off the boat to simulate a sailor falling in the water and practiced the steps to safely bring the boat around to rescue it. Each of us took a turn at the helm. It had been several years since we had practiced this, and I finished the drill feeling much more confident about what to do if I encountered this situation.
All of this got me thinking about the importance of preparing for and practicing responses to potential challenges. Although we hope they never happen to us, unexpected events can put us in danger at any time. Here are three steps to take in designing your own emergency drill.
1. List some potential scenarios. It can be emotionally draining to think about some of the bad things that might happen, and it’s often difficult to come up with a realistic list, but it’s easier to prepare for something you can picture in your mind. You might start by scanning news reports to identify situations that others have encountered, such as a house fire, a home invasion, an emergency evacuation in your workplace, or a friend showing symptoms of a heart attack.
2. Make a plan. Select one of the scenarios and think about who might need to be involved in the response. For example, a pilot would need to think about how to communicate and coordinate with crew, air-traffic controllers, and passengers. On the sailboat, we practiced as a team, knowing that we would need to work together if we lost someone in the water. Gather your group together and agree on a plan for dealing with this scenario. For example, if you are thinking about the need to quickly evacuate your home, you should create the plan with others who live in the home.
3. Practice the plan. Although there is value in simply talking through your response to a scenario, you will learn a lot more by actually trying it out. For example, when we first ran the overboard drill, we realized that the sails on the boat had changed since the last time we had practiced these maneuvers and we needed to adjust our actions accordingly. Choose a time and go through the steps of your plan. Afterward, sit down with your group and discuss what went well and what you would do differently the next time.
It can feel awkward to bring these things up with family, friends, or co-workers. Yet one of the keys to well-being and resilience is reducing the level of adversity you encounter to protect your resources from unavoidable challenges. Spending a little time to plan and rehearse responses to various emergencies can increase your chances of dealing with them effectively and safely.
Here is a more detailed guide to building a personal emergency plan that you may find helpful.