The sky outside my office window is unremarkable this morning. A scattered layer at 1,700′ is overlaid by a broken layer at 2,800′. The winds are 11 gusting to 17. Not ideal, but not all that bad, either.
To the east the weather is far less benign. Hurricane Dorian churns over Grand Bahama Island, fewer than 200 miles away from where I sit. The storm has lost its steering currents and is just sitting there, beating the island and its inhabitants to a pulp with winds gusting to 200 mph and greater.
This is bad. The storm is predicted to turn to the north and accelerate out of the area. I hope it does. I hope it misses Florida, and Georgia, and the Carolinas. But a prediction is not a guarantee, it’s just a well-educated guess. As I write this, the actual track of the storm and its ultimate outcome is unknown.
That’s something we humans have to be cautious about, because we’re a little goofy. We fall prey to our own weaknesses in stressful situations. And if you’ve never been within the Cone of Uncertainty as one of the largest storms in the world heads your way, I can tell you from personal experience and careful observation stress begins to affect people’s judgment and their actions well before the physical danger of the storm comes ashore.
As pilots we’re exposed to the basics of human factors fairly early in our training. The FAA refers to them as the Five Hazardous Attitudes. They’re real, too. This isn’t new-age psychobabble. Human beings, you and I, are absolutely vulnerable to personality traits we all have, but may not recognize as being part of us.
Along the coast of Florida this morning there are a small but surprisingly oblivious number of people who take the attitude, “Don’t tell me to evacuate. I’m staying here to protect my home.” How one protects their big screen TV as their roof sails down the street is beyond me.
That’s the Anti-Authority attitude pilots are warned about. When the county governing body issues an evacuation order, it’s because there is real danger afoot. It’s not to make the task of robbing your house easier. Granted, your house may be robbed. That’s possible. But it’s also possible there won’t be a house left to steal anything from.
As humbling as it may be, sometimes it’s in our own best interest to listen to the authorities. They just might have information available to them that we’re not aware of.
There are four additional hazardous attitudes that are on display from folks in the path of the coming storm, and those attitudes are important to pilots hundreds of miles away because they provide the opportunity to learn from the hubris or inactivity of others while in the safety of their own homes.
Impulsivity is the knee-jerk reaction to do something and do it quickly. That’s not always the best idea. You’ll see these folks at the gas station pre-storm filling every container they own with fuel. Then then drive away to store these containers in their home.
The odds of actually needing 80 gallons of gasoline in the next few days is perhaps not as pressing as the desire to avoid burning your house down by storing highly flammable fuel in leaky containers in the same structure where your children sleep. These are the same folks who buy trunk-loads of what they consider to be staple foods. Foods that are, by and large, perishable. More than their family could eat in a month.
The Invulnerables think they’re immune to the power of the hurricane, or the risk of driving at highway speeds during an ice storm, or of the carbon monoxide fumes from their generator leaking into the living space of their house from the garage. They know others have been injured or killed doing exactly the same thing, but they’re convinced they will not fall prey to the same fate. Because..well…just because. You know.
The sufferers of the Macho attitude aren’t all men. People of both sexes will stand their ground, half a block from the beach as the storm bears down on them.
“We stayed for Charlie and made it through just fine,” they say. “We’re staying this time too. We’re not afraid.”
Uh, Charlie was a Category 3 or 4 that came ashore 100 miles away. This is a Category 5 that’s aimed at your house. It’s an apples and oranges comparison.
Like the pilot who habitually initiates a takeoff without removing the frost from their wings, they’re basing their decisions on past experiences where an abundance of good luck was involved. One day that luck will run out. It’s just a matter of time.
And next door to the Macho family is the Resignation crew. The folks who throw up their hands and says, “What’s the point? We can’t do anything about the storm.” That’s entirely true. They can’t do anything about the storm, but they can still prepare to lessen the damage. Board up the house, put away loose items, reinforce doorways, and identify safe spaces within your home to retreat to if things get ugly.
Risk mitigation is a worthy pursuit. And some of the key factors in doing that successfully include identifying the risk, creating a rational plan of action, and then implementing that plan.
I wish the people of the Bahamas the best. Whether they evacuated or stayed, I hope for the best even while I fear the worst. I also hope the residents of the southeastern states stay safe through the coming days.
But most of all, I hope you recognize this as a wonderful opportunity to recognize the importance of checking your own attitude now and then. Let’s make safety our number one priority, and let our own ego (or lack of ego) take a back seat.
There will be relief efforts getting underway by the end of this week. Consider being a participant in some way. Good people need whatever you have to offer.