The scuba dive instructor was teaching us first-time divers what to do if we run out of air underwater. He pointed his finger to the sky and said, “Go up! There’s plenty of air up there.”
It does not deserve any thought. If we scuba divers run out of air underwater, we simply go up to the surface where there’s plenty of air.
But the dive instructor wasn’t finished.
“When you run out of air and your dive buddy is not there to help you, you do an emergency ascent to the surface. You take off your weight belt and push upward with your flippers. Exhale air as you go up to unload pressure from your lungs. Right before you reach the surface, you quickly turn your body such that it’s parallel to the surface and pause for a few seconds. This is known as a “flash” and it allows your body to minimise any side effects from the sudden change in pressure.”
Scuba dive instructors teach several options when divers face low air or out-of-air scenarios. The emergency ascent is just one of them. But all are based on common sense: when out of air, go up to where there’s lot of air.
When we find ourselves in an emergency or under immediate threat, common sense is often the best place to start.
When there’s a fire, we run to escape the flames and smoke.
When there’s an earthquake, we duck for cover if we’re indoors. Outdoors, we run away from nearby electric posts or buildings.
When there’s rising flood waters or an oncoming tsunami, we run to higher ground or climb to the second floor or roof of a building.
It’s what we do afterward, however, that finally determine our fates.
After escaping from a fire, do we run back in to save valuables or look for any loved ones we might have left behind? Do we try to put out the fire ourselves?
Do we go back in to the building we went out from after an earthquake?
Do we stay on the roofs of our houses as flood waters rise or do we jump into the water to swim to higher ground?
It is here, the second thing after we did the first, that we sometimes run into conflict with our common sense. This is where we need guidance or education.
Experienced emergency management professionals always teach us to always stay calm in the face of threat. And they teach us to be aware of standard steps depending on the emergency.
Running from a fire, for example, is always the most sensible first thing to do. The second thing, fire safety officers teach, however, is to alert others that there is a fire. In short, sound the alarm. The idea is for others to know there’s a fire so that those who do not know there’s a threat can escape and those like a nearby fire brigade can come fight the fire.
Firefighters also can teach us how to operate fire extinguishers and fire hoses so we’d know what to do if we were to try putting out fires. But first things first, when there’s a fire, get out of danger, that is, escape. Second thing: sound the alarm. And only then can one perhaps think about fighting the fire.
Safety is first about common sense but it comes together with some horse sense, that is, knowledge on top of what is obvious. Scuba dive instructors teach us the obvious: go up when you need air. But they also teach us the knowledge of how to go up to get air in the safest way possible. Take off the weight belt to lighten the body, exhale to regulate pressure, and flash to minimise the sudden change in pressure at the surface.
When we face dire threats, we sometimes react too quickly without thinking. Common sense is important but it can go only so far. Education in handling emergencies as taught by professionals and experts are just as vital in making sure we and the people we value come out safe at the end.