When Everything Fails: Surviving Any Disaster

Course No. 9794
Professor Stephen Owen, PhD
Radford University
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Course No. 9794
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Explore the psychology of emergency situations.
  • numbers Learn what you can do to prevent or prepare for disasters.
  • numbers Gain insight into America's incident command infrastructure.
  • numbers Reflect on lessons from past disasters-and how communities can recover.

Course Overview

Hollywood gives us certain images of disaster: people fleeing in panic; chaos in the streets; and heroic responders who come in, take charge, and solve problems in superhuman ways. But of course, the real world does not operate like Hollywood. People behave differently than they do in the movies, and in real life, everyday citizens play an important role in disaster readiness, response, and recovery. What will your role be? Are you prepared?

Living through a disaster is not a question of if—it’s a question of when. Fires, floods, chemical spills, terrorist attacks, and other disasters can happen swiftly and without warning, so it is imperative that we all do what we can now to prepare. Do you know what hazards are most likely in your neighborhood? How will you find out about potential disasters? And how will you communicate with your loved ones? If you had to evacuate without warning, do you know where you will go, and what route you will take?

Delving into these questions is a great first step in becoming disaster-aware and ready to survive should the unthinkable happen. When Everything Fails: Surviving Any Disaster offers a practical guide for protecting yourself, your family, and your community. Taught by Professor Stephen Owen of Radford University, these 14 practical and informative lectures will arm you with information for planning ahead so you can prepare for the effects of a disaster or catastrophe. You will also learn about the resources and infrastructure in your community that are in place to aid in preparedness, response, and recovery.

As you will discover, when a disaster occurs, it may be some time before help arrives. Every one of us may find ourselves on our own in a dangerous situation, so we must be prepared, for our own sakes as well as for the people, pets, and community that depend on us. Planning for such a scenario can be overwhelming—after all, one hallmark of disasters is they catch us off-guard—but with the right training, supplies, and practice, you can live confidently, knowing you are as ready as possible. From basic first aid measures like CPR and the Heimlich maneuver to the fundamentals of the first responders, When Everything Fails: Surviving Any Disaster shows you what you need to know to survive.

A Case Study Approach

One of the best ways to prepare for the next disaster is to study past disasters. Numerous “after action reviews” have been written for everything from hurricanes to train wrecks, and these case studies can tell us what happened, what went wrong, what individuals and first responders did well, and what we can learn for next time. Professor Owen draws essential lessons from calamities that have affected big cities and small towns across the United States, including:

  • The winter 1982 airline crash in Washington, D.C.’s Potomac River;
  • The 1997 flood of the Red River valley;
  • The 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri;
  • The 2016 firestorm that hit Gatlinburg, Tennessee;
  • The 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida; and more.

Through these and other case studies, Professor Owen draws larger lessons, such as the distinction between a “routine emergency” (e.g., a car wreck), a “disaster” (e.g., a train wreck that creates a massive chlorine spill), and a “catastrophe” (community-wide destruction such as the result of Hurricane Katrina). He asks you to reflect on what you would do and how you would respond—and he offers the latest recommendations from emergency management organizations on how to prepare or respond.

For instance, no one wants to consider the possibility of encountering an active shooter, but there are several important principles that might save your life, should ever find yourself in such a situation. The first principles are around “situational awareness” and “normalcy bias.” After the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, some survivors reported that they initially thought the sound of the gunshots may have been part of the music or fireworks going off. When an active shooter is present, it’s critical to move past an initial reaction of “everything is normal” and into a mode of “run, fight, hide.”

Every case study has something to teach us, and the simple act of reflecting on these past disasters will make you more aware than the average citizen.

Preparation and Resources

A train wreck and chemical spill in your neighborhood is probably unlikely, but many types of disasters happen across the country every day. Over several lectures, Professor Owen does a deep dive into several of the most likely disasters we might face, such as:

  • Fires. After learning about the chemical process of fire, as well as the terms “flashover” and “backdraft,” you will learn a few things you can do right now to lessen the risk of fire in your home.
  • Earthquakes. You might be surprised to learn that bracing in a doorway is not necessarily the best response to an earthquake. What should you do? And what should you prepare for after seismic activity?
  • Extreme Weather. From flash floods to hurricanes to derechos, weather is one of the most dangerous hazards in our world. A few simple tips can be the difference between life and death.

While you might be on your own during and immediately after an unexpected disaster, our communities have infrastructure and a number of resources to help us prepare and recover. In this course, you will be introduced to many of the common concepts around disaster planning and emergency response, including FEMA’s National Preparedness Goal and the Preparation Cycle.

You’ll also get to know some of the responders and agencies who are there to keep us safe, including visible first responders such as police, firefighters, and EMS, as well as behind-the-scenes scientists, public health departments, and others who are here to aid in prevention and recovery. How do these various operations and agencies function? How do they coordinate together? And what can we learn from them?

The Incident Command System (ICS) is a national framework developed after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina to help coordinate efforts from multiple levels of government as well as private players. Professor Owen introduces you to this powerful system, outlining what you might expect from various responders during and after an incident. He also points you toward community resources—such as the Red Cross’s CPR training, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), and SKYWARN weather spotting—where you can learn more to enhance your readiness.

Disaster preparedness is the responsibility of all of us. When Everything Fails: Surviving Any Disaster is a fascinating, easy-to-follow introduction to the world of preparation and recovery. Remember: When everything fails, what you learn here may save a life. Stay safe out there.

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14 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    How Prepared Are You for a Disaster?
    Welcome to your journey of preparedness! Begin your course with a self-assessment. Explore the different types of disasters and reflect on your baseline. Do you know the hazards around you on a regular basis? Do you have plans for shelter or evacuation? What about communication? x
  • 2
    Developing a Preparedness Plan
    After reviewing a few basic concepts-such as the difference between an emergency, a disaster, and a catastrophe-Professor Owen walks you through the fundamentals of a good preparedness plan. From identifying risks around you to building physical and digital go kits," you are on your way." x
  • 3
    Identifying Hazards and Responses
    Prevent, protect, mitigate, respond, recover: This simple framework is a way of thinking, designed around FEMA's National Preparedness Goal, a recipe for identifying and preparing for potential hazards. From here, the next step is to equip yourself and establish a few practices that will serve you if-or when-disaster strikes. x
  • 4
    Making Decisions in a Disaster
    Decision-making is a critical component of surviving a disaster. In an emergency situation, your mind won't operate like it does in day-to-day life, which is why preparation and planning are so critical. Here, learn to size up emergency situations, guard against normalcy bias," and act appropriately under stressful circumstances." x
  • 5
    Essential Lifesaving Skills
    Knowing the basics of CPR, first aid, fire extinguishers, and more, might one day save a life-yours or that of someone around you. Take a look at some of the practical skills you would be wise to develop, from operating an AED to shutting off utilities. See where you should look for more comprehensive hands-on training. x
  • 6
    What to Do in a Fire
    A fire is one of the most common disasters you might encounter, and one for which you can readily prepare. Learn the basics of fire safety, from developing a home fire safety plan to specific things you can do to reduce your risk of fire in the home. This lecture also shows you the fundamentals of how fires work, including flashovers and backdrafts. x
  • 7
    When the Earth Shakes or Opens
    Depending on where you live, earthquakes may pose a serious threat to your life or property, and what makes them so frightening is they can strike without warning. Learn how best to stay safe during and after an earthquake. Then consider two other geologic hazards-volcanos and sinkholes. x
  • 8
    Surviving Hurricanes and Other Storms
    Take a crash course in some of the more common weather hazards, from hurricanes and tornadoes to floods and blizzards. We will all experience extreme weather at some point, and this lecture arms you with information about the dynamics of weather systems as well as precautionary measures you can and should take. x
  • 9
    Coping in an Active Shooter Situation
    We might associate the word disaster" with accidents or environmental hazards, but it can also include human-created activity, particularly violence. Active shooter situations are all too common, so preparation is crucial. Here, you will learn about situational awareness and the "run, fight, hide" response." x
  • 10
    Helping Others in a Disaster
    Shift your attention from specific types of disasters to the way communities respond. As you will find out in this lecture, one emergent behavior" following a disaster is a sense of community bonding and altruism. Examine a few of the ways you can help after a disaster, from volunteering to donations." x
  • 11
    First Responders and How They Work
    In this first lecture of three lectures on community infrastructure, you will review some of the public safety issues typical to many places, as well as how first responders operate within the community. Popular media often mischaracterize the roles of police, firefighters, and emergency medical services, so take a real-world look at what these organizations do in urgent situations. x
  • 12
    The First Responders Many Never See
    Police and firefighters may be on the visible front lines of a disaster scene, but communities require numerous individuals and agencies in order to respond effectively and recover. From scientists researching risks to public works departments or public health officials coordinating recovery, uncover society's hidden responders. x
  • 13
    How Disaster Response Is Coordinated
    Delve into the fascinating world of incident command. In the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, federal government officials saw the need for coordination among many players in an emergency. The Incident Command System (ICS) is a set of common languages and procedures that can help us all do our best during and after a disaster. x
  • 14
    The Challenges of Disaster Recovery
    When disasters strike, urgency pervades as individuals, emergency personnel, and local governments work to respond. But what happens after the crisis has passed? In this final lecture, consider the short- and long-term effects a disaster may have for individuals and communities. x

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  • 14 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • Printed course guidebook
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  • Closed captioning available

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  • Printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
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  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Stephen Owen

About Your Professor

Stephen Owen, PhD
Radford University
Stephen Owen is a Professor of Criminal Justice at Radford University. He earned his PhD in Political Science from the University of Missouri–St. Louis (UMSL). He also holds a BS in Criminal Justice from Southeast Missouri State University and an MA in Political Science from UMSL. His studies focused on the links between criminal justice, public policy, public administration, and urban affairs. Professor Owen has also...
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When Everything Fails: Surviving Any Disaster is rated 3.0 out of 5 by 3.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Solid, If Unremarkable, Course Prof. Owen's offers through this course an exhaustive primer on what to do in a long list of disaster scenarios. Much of this information is already well-known, either through governmental or media sources or is simple common sense, but there is also relevant, important advice that is less well-known, and which makes the course worthwhile. For my purposes, the first ten lectures, which focus on what to do in specific disaster situations, were far more useful than the last four, which explored the disaster response infrastructure at the local, state, and federal level. This latter information is certainly important, but two hours was more than enough on this subject matter. Prof. Owen has a steady, earnest way that makes him a generally effective (although certainly not dynamic) lecturer. All in all, I found the course of value, but I was glad when I reached the end of the final lecture.
Date published: 2020-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and I highly endorse this course I live in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. I have been on the Emergency Response Team (ERT) at work for 15 years, CERT in my community for over 8 years. I am also actively involved in emergency communications as a volunteer (ARES/RACES) for both the city and county for over 8 years. In California we are at risk for Earthquakes, Wildfire and floods to mention a few. This course provided training that was consistent with the CERT, ERT and FEMA training I have received over the years. This course provided additional background that I have not received in training elsewhere. Case in point. This class discusses putting together a "Disaster Planning List" based on City and County "THIRA Hazard Lists". I only learned this as a result of this course and was able to better prepare for emergencies as a result. I highly endorse this course.
Date published: 2020-08-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Useless! This course is absolutelly useless. The professor is just listing disasters and telling (in a very boring manner) how horrible they were. Zero valuble information on how to prepare for any crisis. Do not waste your money! The course is really bad and the professor is extremely boring. Who knows why a person without any suitable background is teaching a course like this one.
Date published: 2020-06-15
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