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Ready Arlington: It’s the End of the World as We Know It, So Let’s Talk About It

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This biweekly column is sponsored by the Arlington Office of Emergency Management.

Ready Arlington, A Novel CatastropheIt’s that time of year when we like to curl up with a mug of cocoa and a good book. Of course, our staff favorites feature stories of emergencies, disasters, and survival against the odds.

See what our staff is reading, and join us in a discussion at A Novel Catastrophe, our bi-monthly book club.

Ready Arlington, WaveWave, Sonali Deraniyagala (Tuesday, March 14) – In 2004, at a beach resort on the coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali and her family — parents, husband, sons — were swept away by a tsunami.

Only Sonali survived to tell their tale. This is her account of the nearly incomprehensible event and its aftermath.

  • Why we read it: We put a lot of effort into planning for, and responding to, emergencies. This raw and honest depiction is a reminder that the disaster isn’t over when the Emergency Operations Center closes.
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Ready Arlington, Flight 232Flight 232, Laurence Gonzales (Tuesday, May 9) – As hundreds of rescue workers waited on the ground, United Airlines Flight 232 wallowed drunkenly over the bluffs northwest of Sioux City. The plane slammed onto the runway and burst into a vast fireball. The rescuers didn’t move at first: nobody could possibly survive that crash.

And then people began emerging from the summer corn that lined the runways. Miraculously, 184 of 296 passengers lived.

  • Why we read it: This is a story of miracles, heroes, sacrifice and survival. Need we say more?
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Ready Arlington, Life As We Knew ItLife As We Knew It (Tuesday, July 11) – High school sophomore Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when an asteroid knocks the moon closer to Earth, like “one marble hits another.”

The result is catastrophic. How can her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis are wiping out the coasts, earthquakes are rocking the continents, and volcanic ash is blocking out the sun?

  • Why we read it: Sure, it’s a little apocalyptic, but this fun, fast read really makes you think about your own survival skills in the worst of conditions.
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Ready Arlington, five days at memorial_LGFive Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, Sheri Fink (September 12) After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients for rescue.

Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

  • Why we read it: We say over and over again: make a plan. This book brings us into the worst-case-scenario, when plans fail, or don’t exist, and staff are forced to make difficult decisions.   
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According to Amanda Ripley, author of The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why (one of our all-time favorites), there are three common characteristics of disaster survivors:

  • A belief you can influence what happens to you
  • Ability to find meaningful purpose in life’s struggles
  • Ability to learn from all experiences- good and bad

Join our conversation: Do the survivors in these books share these characteristics? How would you respond in their shoes?

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