Negative Visualizations – the right way to plan for emergencies

There is great power in affirmations.  Many people use them achieve success.  They start like this, “I am a successful, confident risk manager who can handle anything.”  But affirmations become even stronger with the addition of visualizations.

Visualizations are the mental movies you play featuring yourself as the  Hollywood A-lister, doing as John Eldridge says looking for “a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” And you do all with great success.

Negative visualizations and emergency planning

So what’s all this talk of affirmations and visualizations got to do with emergency planning?  Everything, if you want to survive the worst-case scenarios.  Unfortunately, our use of visualizations has become exceedingly positive and therein lies the problem.  To properly prepare for emergency situations, you must visualize all the potential outcomes.  Only then will you be capable of handling the varying situations as they arise.

How does this work?  Let’s take a look at active shooter scenarios since this is where parents and the media are focusing their attention these days.  Typically, we would perform a tabletop drill and present the scenario.  The scenario would be mild and setup to have us be successful.   We would walk through the scenario role playing it with our team mates. Basically, we keep all the students and staff safe and no one gets killed.  Unfortunately, this type of visualization doesn’t really help us when everything doesn’t go as planned.  In walks negative visualizations.


To perform negative visualizations, we are going to increase our levels of success from total failure, one stage at a time, to total success.  We can do this in approximately 5 to 6 stages.  It takes a bit longer for our tabletop drills or our functional exercises, but increases in staff confidence will amaze you.

Stage 1 – 100% failure

Active shooter arrives on campus and kills everyone.  Even you die.

Stage 2- 75% failure

Active shooter arrives on campus and kills 100 people, you try to stop them but are killed.

Stage 3 – 50% failure

Active shooter arrives on campus and kills 40 people, you fight with the shooter and disarm them, but suffer a serious injury and lose a limb.

Stage 4 – 25% failure

Active shooter arrives on campus and kills 2 people, you are shot at and take a minor hit to the right shoulder and require minimal stitches.   You fight with the shooter and kill the shooter in the process.

Stage 5 – 100% success

Active shooter arrives on campus.  No one is killed.  You are able to find the shooter, disarm them and have them arrested.  You suffer no damage.  Everyone is fine.

This is a lot of steps, but the reason this works so well, is that you are prepared for every scenario.  When you only prepare for Stage 5 and something goes horribly wrong, you must stop and devise a new plan.  Most people don’t handle this well, especially under high levels of stress.  Seeing yourself in various situations where things may or may not work to your advantage actually gives you the advantage over the situation.

Next time you are planning your emergency drills or even planning out other safety (confined space entry) work, try negative visualizations to help you achieve greater success.



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