Accounts I've read of what happens immediately after a [survivable] plane crash are similar. Many physically uninjured passengers will just continue to sit in their seats, waiting to be told what to do, even if the plane's on fire. Another sizeable minority act through their roles as if the plane had made a successful landing; stand up to grab their carry-on luggage, then form an orderly queue. Only around 10-20% actually behave appropriately (that is, follow the emergency evacuation drill, without guidance: pop the emergency hatches and get the hell out of the danger zone without encumbering themselves).
We are creatures of habit; we have great difficulty accepting the existence of an immediate and potentially lethal threat to our existence, so some of us behave as if it simply isn't there. (Which is why it takes training to instill the right reflexes for dealing with abnormal situations.) And even among those who unfreeze and start moving again, the impulse to revert to "normal" behaviour can be overwhelming.
I wasn't in London at the time and couldn't ask him what the hello he was on about as the news hadn't broken and the phone networks where down. Maybe 30 minutes after or something the news stories started breaking and I quickly emailed a few people to check on friends/family etc...
My friend didn't know what to do so just kept doing what he was doing. I guess similar to sitting in a seat and waiting, but since he already had a destination he kept on walking like a zombie. He walked the couple of blocks, sat down at his desk and started his morning routine like nothing had happened.
His office had a 40" inch plasma and it wasn't until that was switched the news and other staff started talking that he was pulled out of auto pilot and started to understand what had just happened and emotion and thought returned to him.
No medical training at all, but one of the things I know is that spinal trauma can happen in car accidents. You don't want to move the guys if they are not in immediate danger.
There would always be that fear that if you would just waited and not intervened, that guy would have walked and not live his entire life in a wheelchair.
I'm not saying you did something wrong. Just that, I won't try to move them but would watch helplessly from a distance.
sorry, replied to the wrong thread
I'm mostly used to combat casualties (where you also have to worry about enemy action, unexploded IEDs or UXOs, etc.), but I've responded to a bunch of traffic accidents in other places, including one a few hundred meters from my house on the offramp a couple nights ago. It's not really that hard, and basic first aid/CPR training is something most people should have, especially if you have kids.
(also, if you have a car, and you don't carry a flashlight or two, a blanket, a cellphone, and a seat belt cutter/glass breaker, and ideally a real first aid kit, you're really doing it wrong.)
Incidentally I found it quite hard to find a 'non-toy' first aid kit. Most companies will sell you a crappy set of contents in a very spiffy looking plastic box, that would be mostly useless in any situation beyond nicking your finger while peeling potatoes.
I'm kind of sad that I lost one of my good Italian army blankets at the vehicle accident the other night -- I didn't want it back after it was covered in a random person's blood and glass, and she was still using it. Annoyingly most of the good surplus sources for heavy wool blankets have gone dry.
I keep a minor-injuries kit for definitive care for minor comfort things (some small bandaids, OTC medications, wet wipes, etc.) separate from an actual trauma kit (well, one in cabin and a bigger one in the trunk) (4-8 israeli dressings, 2 Combat Application Tourniquets, some rolls of gauze, sterile blades, catheter/needle for tension pneumothorax, cpr mask (which I'd only really use on sketchy random people who appear ill, otherwise IMO its a waste of time, although in a bigger kit a BVM would be great), some needles, some nitrile gloves, surgical tape, duct tape, 2 SAM splints, hot and cold packs). Add to that the other normal zombie/earthquake/etc. things (heavy trash bags, crowbar, and trauma-causing implements), and I am really happy to have a car vs. take public transit.
Also, a case or two of water and sports drink (gatorade) is really useful in the car. If nothing else, blankets and a $3 case of bottled water saves a lot of money on road trips and at gas stations.
For instance, I am quite self-regulated and often go against the grain in regular life. I spend a lot more time thinking about the "right way" to do things than do most people, I suspect. I never accept things on blind faith, even if they are told to me by a supposed authority figure.
Does all this mean I stand a better chance of not being a sheep in a crisis?
Practice. Get safe but uncomfortable, cause some chaos, and deal with it. Then think about what you did, and why, and what you'll do next time. Or hire an outdoor first aid instuctor to inflict that on you.
> Does all this mean I stand a better chance of not being a sheep in a crisis?
It might. On the other hand, it might increase the chance of you getting blown up while arguing about the right way to escape. There's no easy answer.
I asked for crowbars or tools to dismantle the seat so the person could exit. No one moved, it was like a movie to them. I think it is a survival instinct that has atrophied to dysfunction. Playing dead, or waiting for a more experienced leader to emerge with instructions. I was unable to register myself as a leader to those paralyzed brains.
I've been in that situation before, I've been the first responder on site and while I have limited medical knowledge I knew enough to check pulses and verify that people were "okay", as soon as the second and third people showed up I started yelling orders at them. For some reason this causes them to do without asking "why" whatever you are telling them to do. Call 911, block off the road, turn on hazards, warn people coming down the roads, get a blanket, get water, I need a knife to cut the seatbelt.
Shout status updates to the person on the 911 call.
In my case a vehicle had caught on fire and I wanted to get everyone away as soon as possible. I started yelling at people to get out of the way at least a 100 ft and get down, I didn't want to risk an explosion (yes, I am aware of how unlikely it is, and it didn't happen this time) but there was a fire in the engine compartment. At that point a doctor had stopped, I was yelling at him to get away when he mentioned he was a doctor, I told him to help me get the person out of the vehicle that was on fire. Two other strong volunteers had made their way over to the other vehicle and were pulling the three people out of that vehicle (which had fared much better).
To this day I still don't remember faces, I don't remember much of what I did or how I did it, but I do remember a police officer telling me that I should consider myself a hero because I did what I should have done. He told me how the other people told him that I was yelling orders like a mad man and that I seemed to have the scene under full control. In reality I have no idea what went through my head, I have no idea how I was able to do what I did and what my thinking was like at the time. I had heard of the "By Stander" effect you mentioned before this, and I had been told what to do, but I have had no training at all.
To this day I still have slight PTSD. I have had terrible dreams about what I do remember, the person on the passenger side of the car which was on fire whose head was so smashed in from hitting the front dashboard (no seatbelt, no airbags) that it was completely missing, blood everywhere (blood is also surprisingly slippery ...) and trying to make sure everyone was safe that was showing up to "help".
You're absolutely right about crowd mentality, too. You have to expect that most of the bystanders will be almost useless and order them about. I never told them to do jumping-jacks, but I do give specific instructions to specific people and that works a lot better.
But I know what you mean about seeing horrible things. I try not to think about Grandma lying in a pool of blood, even though I saved her. I hope I never see another compound fracture again.
I've always given direct orders to anyone that I saw. Either by pointing at them, or by naming something they are wearing.
I would love it if anyone could provide any information or studies of behavior opposite of the "bystander effect". I don't really even know what to search for. What causes people to take action in emergency situations? What separates them from the crowd?
I am unfortunately very much a push over in that regard as well, even-though I've been bitten multiple times I still continue to lend money to people that need it, I still continue to take my time out of my day to help them move, but most of the time I know that they wouldn't give me the time of day.
I just know that eventually it will pay off. I could have continued driving along without stopping, but I would have hated myself for it.
I pulled up my cell phone and dialed 911. Two nurses who coincidentally happened to be taking their baby for a stroll came to the scene and peered into the driver's side window for well over a minute before my girlfriend asked them to open the door. In the end, those two nurses ended up saving the man's life with CPR until emergency workers arrived from the fire station a couple blocks away.
Being with him in his civilian clothes in, say, a crowded shopping mall and barking out "Excuse me! Coming through!" because people are blocking his route to the coffee shop or something, and seeing the sea of people just part in front of him is impressive. Having an authoritative voice and a lot of self-confidence does wonders, apparently.
I've tried doing the same. Doesn't work for me. :(
I was first on the scene of an accident where a car had taken a corner too fast and rolled. The car was upside down, the roof was partially crushed and petrol was pouring out of the car but the engine was still running. The single occupant was a young woman who appeared semi-conscious but was bleeding where shards of glass were embedded in her chest. I checked her vitals and then wanted to switch the engine off. Because of how she was positioned (half out of the window and without a seatbelt) I could not reach the ignition to turn the engine off. I was worried that the petrol pouring out of the car might ignite. I had to squeeze myself through the passenger side window but the roof had partially collapsed. After a bit of a struggle to reach I succeeded in turning the engine off.
By the time I had extricated myself from the car and returned to the driver a crowd had started arriving and were simply gawking (but not helping). Then someone lit a cigarette and I flipped. I'm the least aggressive person you could meet but I pretty much clouted him, gave him a mouthful of abuse and then when back to the driver.
It was a weird experience because "normally" I have a really bad phobia of blood. I can faint just hearing someone talk about the circulatory system (I'm not kidding, this has happened).
In this case my brain seemed to switch into a different highly-organised purely logical mode.
It seems cliche, but there is a fundamental truth to the fact that most westerners are simply unaware of what the "I fear for my bodily integrity" sensation is and does to your life. OP's newly-discovered appreciation of how crowded buses present a potential security threat is a great example. It isn't that you suddenly see your life in a whole new light, it's that you regard various mundane things with a new, orthogonal parameter: is this situation more likely to result in harm to me?
Like all things, eventually you become inured and looking at a situation from a security perspective becomes a routine thought passing through your head along with "shit, I forgot to pay the gas bill." Without getting into Israel/Palestine, this is a slice of what living in Israeli society is roughly like.
What you are describing is living above "red". It doesn't matter where you are, what you are doing or who you are with you are constantly looking at peoples hands, faces, posture, and constantly assessing threats. Many people in law enforcement and military have the same experience as you.
The way I have heard it explained is as such:
green = this is where you feel most safe, this would be when you are home in bed, or when you are back in your old childhood room at your parents house.
orange = You are slightly alert, this can be your condition while driving, or walking on the street. You are aware of your surroundings, but you feel comfortable and at ease.
red = You are highly alert, you are scanning every single person, you are scanning all situations, you are watching for unexpected movement, you are watching facial expressions and body language, you are looking for exits, you know what locations would be safe and what locations wouldn't be safe. Some people have said they experienced a sort of tunnel vision in that you don't nothing anything but potential threats.
People that spend a long time in the red zone can have significant issues with PTSD, it can put you on edge, make it difficult to function in society. The reason why law enforcement feels like such an outsider compared to the general citizen is partly due to constantly being in the red. When they are around other police officers they can let their guard drop a little and feel less stressed.
I hope you soon start feeling like you don't have to do what you are doing. I've heard from friends that were in the military that for them it went away after a year or two of being out, but it has been difficult for them, you forever see all situations and people in a completely different light. Best of luck to you.
Note: I personally spend a lot of time in orange and red modes, part of this may be my life long martial arts training as well as having had attempted muggings. Even while at home I never leave orange, I have a hard time finding a place where I feel completely at ease/in the green.
I feel for the soldier you're replying to because he is at odds with society in this regard. However, he's not at odds with reality because bad shit really does happen and I admire his not being so quick to label it some kind of illness.
With hypervigilance you are identifying threats that do not likely exist given the current context of the situation. Classic post-war examples are where someone needs to check their corners before exiting an aisle of a grocery store or fears slowing down at an intersection because it leaves them vulnerable, even though they are in their hometown. It can interfere greatly with someone's quality of life.
There are a couple of other things that need to go wrong until the diagnosis of PTSD is applicable. Sadly, this is not exactly made easier by the fact that people tend to have vastly different reactions and symptoms.
I think for me personally it is a highly anticipatory, self-protective mode. I am constantly assessing and "war gaming" where scenarios/situations might veer. This includes my daily commute, shopping trips and unfortunately romantic relationships.
There was something about the idea that I might have died in a grey train full of grey commuters, having not truly lived, that I could not stand.
It's just a bunch of hype.
Israel is a very safe place on the whole. You are far more likely to die here as a result of the horrifically bad drivers than of any other cause. Day-to-day, it is not "walking around on alert" as various (ex?)military members have related above.
What exists is a higher level of awareness, certainly for those who have ever been in close proximity to some… event—but also for society at large. I don't know what it's like in the UK, but I don't think there are bored underpaid security guards at the entrance to every mall with handheld metal detectors and an "open your bag, sir." this kind of casually intrusive security is simply unknown in the US outside of airports, at least until the DHS collectively lose their shit over a plot to bomb a mall using chewing gum, bleach, and a tweezers.
So yes, there is hype, particularly if your information is gleaned secondhand from the media; they only show pictures of things here when they're on fire. That doesn't conflict with my (personal, biased) experience that society here has a deeply-ingrained sense of "be on the lookout." I certainly felt it in Tel Aviv during the wave of bombings around 2000/2001 and intifada II, and I saw firsthand how America tried to come to grips with this unfamiliar sensation in New York during 9/11.
I wouldn't call it "a bunch of hype," but I agree that most of us don't live in fear. I object to the word "hype", as those that have experienced terror attacks don't forget them. The fear isn't exaggerated, but the frequency is.
...but how? Did you never spend significant time in Jerusalem (before they finished the separation wall)? I only spent a total of a few months in Jerusalem and saw one suicide bombing and was a few blocks from a shooting. Have you never been to the west bank? One of the two times I went to Hebron I saw soldiers shooting at...who knows? But they were shooting. If you live near the northern border or near Gaza you must have been exposed to rocket attacks at some point. The only way I can imagine you don't encounter violence over 25 years is if you live in a safe area and don't venture out much. Still, you must have friends or family who are exposed to violence. I find it incredible that you think it's just 'hype'.
I almost went to Thailand just before their little redshirt coup thing on vacation from Iraq, too. Fortunately I couldn't get a flight, so I watched it on TV instead a few days later.
I worked in 1 WTC and was about to get into the elevator when the first plane hit on 9/11. I was outside on the corner when the second plane hit.
When my head started to clear some time later--a week? two?--the clearest thought I had was: if my last act as a human had been connecting a data input form to a database table, it would have been a tremendous waste of my life.
Shortly thereafter I entered a new career and a new trajectory through life. The last 10 years have been amazing.
Living with the visceral awareness that sudden death is possible has changed me in many ways. Mostly for the better.
I do have some symptoms of PTSD. Low-flying planes freak me out intensely, as do sudden loud noises and low vibrations strong enough to shake things.
On balance, though, it has catalyzed tremendously positive change in my life. I'm glad that you've been able to make the same of it.
Cheers to being alive.
(Bizarrely, I was also in London on 7/7. A bomb squad truck nearly ran me over (on my bike) going the wrong way down the road near Liverpool St. station, and my wife was very nearly on the Hackney Wick bus.)
At the time of 9/11 I was an enterprise Java programmer. We built software for MBS desks: trade capture, portfolio management and risk analytics.
Finance is hugely interesting, but I was not learning any of it. I was building CRUD operations hooked up to Swing UI and a black-box (to me) analytics backend.
There wasn't (and isn't) anything "wrong" with that, objectively. But I possess two things: one, a strong need for self-determination--I need to eat what I kill; and two, a love for learning that can manifest as antipathy toward using things that I don't understand.
I ended up getting into finance proper and spending six years as a multi-asset prop trader at a gigantic hedge fund and then a gigantic bank, living in NYC and London.
I've ultimately realized that I want to help build stuff that people use, so my lovely wife and I moved to SF and are building a life here.
Are these really PTSD symptoms? I have the same thing, though perhaps not as bad. I was 5 miles from the attack, and in fourth grade at the time.
If when you see a plane flying low you hit the ground and start screaming, that's certainly a disorder. If you glance up at the plane and feel "hrm, I don't like it much", that's not really a disorder. In between those two extremes is found the difference between PTSD and "I don't like low-flying planes since 9/11".
Now that I think about it, I also get freaked out in moving crowds now, which I never did before. (I can be in crowded places, no problem--it's just when a lot of people are moving and mixing, like at a parade, music festival or busy shopping district.)
The airplane thing is totally manageable; I just need to stop and take a few deep breaths. The crowds thing starts off that way, but can get outright panic attack inducing if I don't get somewhere less crowded, and quickly.
I'm with OP. It seems that to be a 'disorder' it needs to have outwardly visible and functionally maladaptive outcomes on your behavior.
I was on a train when they started evacuating a station, and I was praying to myself that the train leaves the station quickly in case the evacuation was for a bomb. Little did I know the bombs were on the trains themselves and not in the station, but my initial reaction was to get out of that station and to get out of the train network and away from public places and crowds as quickly as possible. This article helps explaining this thought process to me.
I had a similar experience with the tricks the mind can play after a bad car accident a few years ago. Although I didn't know it at the time, I had broken almost everything except my left arm and neck. But I could quite plainly see that my right femur bent in an unnatural curve like a floppy puppet's leg. Yet still I insisted that the rescuers couldn't phone my wife because she was 7mths pregnant and had gone back to bed that morning after feeling sick.
Subconciously, my brain was thinking I shouldn't bother her with this and I'd be patched up and home for dinner. I just couldn't process the obvious inputs like a normal rational person.
Also, although I remained concious throughout, I don't remember much of the incident and had no idea how they got me out of the car until I saw the police photos. The mind is a strange thing.
To this day my wife still hasn't forgiven me. The accident happened at 0930 and she didn't get to see me until 1600hrs.
I was playing hooky from school, in a flat in Kings Cross, with my then-girlfriend, after a very late night. I was alerted to what had happened around 10am, when I answered the phone on perhaps the 7th ring, figuring I was in trouble for sciving.
I think my mum had already started planning my funeral by that stage. There's probably a decent chance that, had I gone to school, given my lateness, I might have been a bit closer to the action - the moral of which I take to be "skipping school saved my life"
Looking back now, I remember how the sense of relief I felt very quickly turned to a sense of despair and numbness, as more and more pictures came on the TV and more details emerged. The entire city was bleeding, but in a very strange way, much like what the writer of this post describes, a kind of zombie-like state where everything feels disconnected.
Thanks again for putting something horrible like a bombing in perspective. I'm glad to hear you came out of it stronger on the other end.
Funny thing, I was carrying a sandwich I just bought and got pretty upset when paramedic stepped on the bag where the sandwich was!
I've noticed first hand as both a first-responder & bystander the different ways people react. It's broadly in 2 categories, those paralysed by the automatic Fear/Flight/Freeze response and those Individuals who shape the instinctual response with a trained response, overriding the Survival Stress Reaction  most people exhibit. You see 2 groups of people: those frozen by instinct and others who run towards trouble. People who are trained to respond run towards trouble.
The story Dan has written is a natural human story telling response to traumatic events. Re-telling the story(s) lets you make sense of what has happened and re-gain control over their own destiny. Safety is also being sought here. Control, safety & the knowledge you won't die.
Which brings me to my next point. Not everyone wakes up thinking, today's the day I'm going to be injured or killed then watch other people get injured or killed? Police, Ambo's, firemen, soldiers are exposed to this threat every day. They train hard and have the necessary support structures (sort-of) to survive. Civilians don't, so Scar stories of survival fulfil an important role.
People who have been in situations such as @swombat as a civvie or @mattdeboard in the military or @idan living in a potentially dangerous environment, the key thing they are striving for is to feel and be safe. Being safe is something you don't know you have until it's not there.
 SSR or Survival Stress Reaction is where "a state where a ‘perceived’ high threat stimulus automatically engages the sympathetic nervous system.", Siddle.,B. "Sharpening the Warriors Edge: The Psychology & Science of Training"
I ask because I don't think, in the same situation, I would have been able to resist it, and I honestly have no idea what effect that sight might have.
When you do feel fear on public travel now (and I guess it was even worse in the past), what goes on in your mind? Is it one of those things where you know really that your worry is foolish but you can't help yourself, or is your entire brain telling you that you could be in trouble?
Yes, absolutely. Considering the impact this had even without throwing in the horror of seeing mutilated bodies, I think that was the right decision. It might have felt like I was in control and sane enough to handle it at the time, but considering how I spent the next 2 hours wandering around london zombie-like, I clearly was not.
I know that it's foolish, I know that the chances are infinitesimal, and I know it's biased and unsubstantiated and based on racial prejudices which I abhor. And yet, I'll find myself reminded of that feeling of paralysis, and of being stuck in the tube those 45 minutes. It's not a pleasant experience, so when I change tube, you could argue I'm running away from the experience rather than the danger...
Advice: I know people with PTSD and believe it is a good thing if you can avoid getting it yourself.
Personally, I can handle blood. But as a Scandinavian, I have a hard time seeing suffering even for a Westerner.
"On the other hand, seeing violence up close gives you a better understanding of experiences many people outside the affluent west have to deal with. I ran back toward my bus after it blew up in Jerusalem and I mostly don't regret it. I hav been haunted by the experience since (the smell most of all) but I also feel like I gained a lot of sympathy for people whose situations were previously totally abstract to me."
Not everyone's meant to be a reality junkie. A body can only handle so much (like heroin). http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2011/07/dispatc...
Many people who experience something like this never find the lesson from these experiences as you have, instead ending up with PTSD or similar; I hope that our governments can begin to respond more humanely to tragedies like this and help those who aren't able to find their own path out of fear with counseling and other assistance.
Our response to terrorism over the years has largely been one of fighting the threat (and understandably so). We should add to it a response of compassion for those who, through misfortune, find themselves harmed mentally in a way that most of society cannot understand.
I remember a few years ago (2006) seeing two very large military transport aircraft flying incredibly close together, very low, and directly towards the building I was in (on the 10th floor). I literally stopped mid sentence - they obviously turned away and went on to the nearby RAF base but for a while my brain just seemed to freeze. After the event, I felt a bit of a fraud and worried people might think I'd done it for dramatic effect, but it was totally involuntary - I just sat, motionless looking out the window for about 5 seconds.