A few years ago, I was on a family vacation, when we got into a situation. We had rented boats in the morning, when weather conditions were good. By the afternoon, conditions had deteriorated, but everyone was feeling happy after lunch. There were some family dynamics at play that made it hard to for us to realize that conditions were no longer good, and we all trotted along on our plan or re-embarking. The situation steadily became more heated, until a boat capsized, at which point it was clear that was a true emergency.
We spent a fair amount of time thinking, after this happened, about how we could have avoided it. If we had recognized the situation and spoken calmly about it, we may have made some decisions that would have avoided the incident. I wanted some kind of framework for how to deal with this sort of thing, but I couldn’t find any “emergency response for dummies”. So we developed a four-part framework, called RAGE:
- Generate options
RAGE isn’t an exhaustive list of everything you need to do, but it makes sure that you don’t miss anything truly important. (If it’s too hard to remember, you could say ROX: Recognize, Options, eXecute. But I like RAGE better).
Recognize. One failure in our family vacation fiasco was that there was a never a moment where anyone said, “This is, or has the potential to become, a serious situation.” I think the recognition step is particularly hard in these kinds of slowly-building situations, but I don’t think it’s necessarily easy otherwise. I don’t think it’s necessarily instinctual to shout “Fire!” when you see a fire.
When my wife and I use RAGE, we often say “Recognize!” or “RAGE!” or we physically point and say, “This is a problem.” This kind of very awkward statement is important for me, so I snap out of my day-to-day “everything is fine, let’s slide along” kind of thinking. Hearing “RAGE!” is how I prime myself to go through the next steps.
Assess. Quickly analyze the situation. What is going on? The point of this step is to slow you down, even a little bit. Slowing down seems like the last thing you want to do in a crisis, but the point is to make sure you haven’t missed anything obvious. In the easy case of a fire, it’s best to not just rush in, but to take the two seconds to ask, what’s the overall situation? Are other people safe? Is there a much larger fire, of which I’m only seeing a small part?
Generate options. This is another slowing step. It’s easy to imagine that there’s only one possible course of action and get to it. If you’re on your own, then generating options is a way to make sure that you engage your brain and don’t do something stupid. Importantly, there are often options that don’t have to do with mitigating the crisis itself. If there’s a fire, it may be better to call 911, run away, or make sure other people stay away, than it is to rush in yourself.
Execute. Take action. Unlike the previous two steps, which slow you down, this one is about acceleration. Although running away may be the right option, doing truly nothing is usually the worst. The execution step reminds you to not be a bystander and to avoid paralysis. One way to avoid paralysis is to know what to do, and just the RAGE framework itself might be enough.
And I’ll give some examples of using the RAGE framework. They are not particularly dramatic, but I think that’s what it’s for!
Leaving town. In March 2020, my wife and I were living in a 350 sq. ft. studio in Washington, DC. Covid restrictions were making our life less pleasant, but being able to walk around outside meant it was still bearable. One Saturday morning, my wife came back from a run while I was groggily brooding at the kitchen table. She started talking to me about her run. I was mostly tuned out, until she told me, “This is a situation.” (Recognize!) Essentially, the DC police had cordoned off the area around our apartment. I put on shoes and we went for a walk outside. We had to essentially explain ourselves right as we walked out our front door. (Assess!) We put out a few options, one of which was to drive 26 hours from DC to my in-law’s house in Texas. (Generate options!) It was something we had talked about a little, mostly as a joke, but with the situation as it was, we decided to do it. We packed bags and were on the road by noon on Saturday, arriving late Sunday night, in time for us to be at virtual work on Monday morning. (Execute!)
Medical situation. A family member took her blood pressure, and it was high, high to the point that you’re supposed to call a doctor. She took her blood pressure again, a few minutes later, and got a similarly high number. This was the hard part: do you say it’s not that high, and the fact that the second reading is high is likely the stress from seeing the high first number? The moment that we saw that this could be a situation requiring hospitalization was when we activated RAGE. (Recognize! Assess!) Our options were to do nothing, or to go to a doctor. There were a few choices for doctors, including a small clinic nearby and a hospital further away. We got on the phone, to see if the small clinic could definitively diagnose our family member. (Generate options!) Only at this point, when we had a primary option, the small clinic, and a backup, the hospital, did we get in the car. (Execute!) In this example, it may seem like recognition and assessment were mixed up, but I’d say they just happened very quickly, one after the other. The “oh-shoot” moment, that this could be a problem, was the critical one to get us to do a serious assessment and generation of options. And ultimately, generating options and calling clinics, which seem like a delay, saved us time in the end, since we could go to the local clinic and be seen right away. We avoided jumping right in the car and speeding off to the hospital, which would have been suboptimal.
A hike. My wife and I decided to do an ambitious hike in Canyonlands National Park in August. We carried the recommended amount of water, but we didn’t anticipate how hot it would be, and how much water we would need. At a critical point in our trip, we had the “recognize” moment and ultimately decided to turn back. Other people have other mechanisms for making sure they break the trudge, or the blinders, or the “summit fever”, or whatever you want to call it. RAGE is ours.