How to Survive a Disaster, With Crisis Reporter Judith Matloff


Illustration for article titled How to Survive a Disaster, With Crisis Reporter Judith Matloff
Photo: Micaela Heck/Jim Cooke

This week on The Upgrade we’re tackling how to survive all types of situations—from hurricanes to earthquakes, scary active shooter situations to stampedes—we’re covering it all with help from crisis reporter Judith Matloff. Judith has 40 years of experience reporting in war zones, uprisings, and other dangerous circumstances. She now teaches crisis reporting at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, and her latest book is How to Drag a Body and Other Safety Tips You Hope to Never Need.

Listen to hear Judith’s advice for how to mentally and physically prepare for the worst, and her top tips for surviving natural disasters, snake bites, severed limbs, and so much more.

Listen to The Upgrade above or find us in all the usual places podcasts are served, including Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and NPR One.

Highlights from this week’s episode

From the Judith Matloff Interview

On the benefits of learning basic first aid:

I think most people are not prepared...I think it’s human nature to be optimistic and to be in denial and think, “nothing’s going to happen to me or, you know, that just seems so ridiculous.” [B]ut the thing is, things do happen. One thing which I think people should do, everybody should do is take an emergency first aid course. And, you know, for instance, we have active shooters all the time. If you know how to staunch bleeding, you could save a lot of lives, as passersby did at the Boston Marathon bombing, for instance, or at that big massacre in Las Vegas a few years ago. If you know how to staunch bleeding, which is a very, very simple thing to learn how to do in just a couple hours, you can save lives even at a car accident on the street...I just feel so strongly that we all need to think about the worst-case scenario ahead of time and then think about how you would mitigate or cope with it or even prevent it. And when you have a plan and if you’ve rehearsed it, you will feel calmer when it actually happens. Without a doubt.

On the changes to an emergency evacuation plan this year:

[T]his is something that I urge every American citizen who might live anywhere where there could be a freak tornado or a freak or a freak earthquake—and there are a lot of freaky things going on. [F]ind out now what would your evacuation route be and where would you go? Because it may not be the same as it has been in prior years. So even if you live in a place like New Orleans where I think people that live there pretty much know what the drill is, the drill is very different this year [due to COVID].

On the surprising advice for what to do with a severed body part:

Don’t put it on ice, because the ice will kill the tissue. Wrap it up. And it’s like the best thing is always Ziploc bags. I mean, you just never know, right, that the finger is going to get cut off or something...So put the finger or even if it’s intestines, just wrap them in something and have it have cool water, keep it moist and cool, but don’t have the water actually touch the finger or the exposed body parts that just got severed. Don’t put it on ice.

To hear more of Judith’s valuable tips on the best things to do in various emergency situations, we recommend listening to the full episode!

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Episode Transcript