It's Night, You're Home Alone, and There's a Burglar in the House
Consider the Odds: "A very small percentage of burglaries occur when somebody's home," says Michael R. Rand, chief of victimization statistics for the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. "They want to steal things; they're not looking for confrontation."
But If It Does Happen: "If someone's coming in through your window or fire escape, run out the front door—and vice versa. If you can't get out, lock yourself in the bedroom, barricading the door if necessary, and call 911 from your cell phone, which you should keep by the bed at night. If he reaches you anyway, remember counterattack rule number one: Get 'em in the eyes. As McCann notes, if someone can't see you, he can't hurt you. Aim pepper spray, air freshener, or hairspray right where it counts.
You Skid and Plunge Off a Bridge into the River Below
Consider the Odds: "Bridge railings are designed with height and strength requirements to prevent cars from falling off," says David Harkey, director of the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center. And only 0.1 percent of all motor-vehicle fatalities in 2004 were caused by immersion in water, according to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
But If It Does Happen: The minute your car hits the water, open your door, unfasten your seat belt, and get out, says Harkey. As the car sinks and fills with water, the doors will become harder to open. (Don't even think about the power windows—they'll stop working seconds after impact.)
Your Elevator Suddenly Plummets
Why You Can Relax: Because modern elevators are equipped with so many fail-safes, it's almost impossible. On the extremely off chance the cables of your elevator get cut (as they did in 1945 when a plane hit the Empire State Building—the last time a traction elevator's cables were simultaneously severed and it started to fall), a brake-like device will quickly stop the car from free-falling.
But If It Does Happen: Stay put. "Anytime you experience irregularities with an elevator, do not try to open the doors," says Dotty Stanlaske, executive director of the National Association of Elevator Safety Authorities. "The worst thing you can do is try to exit a moving elevator." If it's dropping, squat down in a corner, she says. That way you minimize the impact if you come to an abrupt stop.
You're Drowning in Quicksand
Why It Won't Happen: If you're a fan of the great outdoors, you might find yourself in quicksand—it's mostly likely to form near bogs—but you probably won't drown. A recent study published in the science journal Nature found that it's "impossible for a human to be drawn into quicksand altogether." Our density keeps us from going under.
But If It Does: The trick, says Gary Calkins of Texas Parks and Wildlife, who has worked around quicksand for almost two decades, is to "shuffle walk" to safety, wading through the muck (which he says will feel more like freshly poured concrete than a swimming pool) until you reach firm ground. The less moving around you do, the better.
You're Kidnapped and Held for Ransom
Why It Won't Happen: More likely than an open-ended capture for ransom, says McCann, is a "quicknapping," during which the victim is abducted for a short time, taken to one or more ATMs, and forced to give her captors cash before being released—usually unharmed.
But If It Does: At the moment someone tries to kidnap you, run and yell "Fire!" (which is more likely to attract attention than "Help!"). "A lot of people don't have an escape mentality," says McCann. "When you grab them, they stop thinking like a person who is free and start thinking like a prisoner." Look for an out—when your captor's attention is elsewhere. But if there's no chance of getting away, make him see you as a person, not a thing, by talking about how relieved your kids will be when you're freed, or about your ailing mother, who's depending on you—or whatever humanizing story you can convincingly muster that might induce empathy and get you released.
Your Plane Is in Trouble
Why It Won't Happen
: You've heard it before, and it's still true: You're safer when you board an airplane than when you get behind the wheel of a car. The chance that you'll be killed in a crash in any given year is only about one in 11 million for planes; one in 5,000 for automobiles. And according to the Aircraft Crashes Record Office, the number of plane accidents in 2006 was the lowest in 53 years.
But If It Does
: Take the usual precautions—tighten your seat belt and follow the instructions of the flight attendant, says Todd Curtis, PhD, founder of AirSafe.com. Asked if there's a section of the plane where your odds of survival are greater, Curtis responds: "Tell me the kind of plane you're in and the kind of accident you're going to have, and I'll tell you where to sit." But, Curtis adds, the middle seating area near the wing is the strongest and most structurally stable part of most aircraft. And at the very least, you'll feel less turbulence when you sit there.
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