As a writer who has covered the airline industry for
years, I've often been struck by the coolness and aplomb
displayed by pilots in emergencies. But after talking
with experts in other high-pressure fields, I've learnt
that there are certain techniques anyone can use in
times of trouble. They may not help you to triumph over
adversity but at least to push the odds greatly in your
The first maxim is hope for the best but
prepare for the worst. From the words of an experienced
firefighter, "People who have prepared for a fire are
much more likely to survive than those who haven't."
Planning for a crisis can be as simple as updating an
insurance policy or imagining what you would do if the
car head of you suddenly stopped. Just considering
worst-case scenarios puts you mentally on your toes –
and that's three-quarters of the battle in mastering a
We have all heard the saying "Don't just stand there.
Do something !" But experts contend that in a crisis the
better advice may be "Don't just do something – stand
there !" Acting without thinking is considered a
reflexive response. What one should do is to think
first. No disaster is so dire that you don't have time
to look and think before taking action.
When you do act, act aggressively. Too often, people
respond to crisis by exerting the least amount of effort
deemed necessary to do the job. They do that in the hope
the problem will go away, which of course, it rarely
does. Acting forcefully does not contradict the
principle of hesitating before acting. Confronting a
crisis, says an expert, is a little like entering
traffic on a fast-moving highway. You have to stop and
look, but once you've decided to move, push that
Just as police are trained to call for backup during
emergencies, so the rest of us should guard against
acting entirely on our own if help is available.
According to an experienced firefighter, one should call
for help first, and then try to handle the situation.
Even when the crisis is psychological or emotional,
recovery can't begin until the person asks for help.
Those who go it alone may be in for a very rough time.
Do not get locked on a detail. In emergency
departments, team leaders learn not to get overly
involved with individual medical procedures that might
prevent them from supervising others. It's important
that someone stand back and keep the whole situation in
view. Otherwise the patient's life can slip away
unnoticed. Said an experienced pilot who successfully
brought a troubled plane down, "We had so many things
going wrong: rapid depressurization, engine failure,
conflicting hydraulic and flight-control indications and
landing-gear worries. But we knew that our top priority
was landing. In accomplishing our many emergency
procedures, we did not allow ourselves to get
preoccupied with any one of them. We did not lose sight
of 'the big picture'."
Finally, no matter how bad things get, be truthful.
When a crisis is of our own making, the temptation may
be to lie or cover up. That is not only unethical, it is
bad arithmetic. When something goes wrong, you have got
one problem. When you try to cover it up, you have got
two. Besides, if people unearth the truth, the lie will
likely haunt you far more than your original error.