Stories from the Field: Crisis Management

Yvonne watched from the corner of her eye as the white car flipped into the air and landed on its hood into the lane beside her, its front bumper swinging within a foot of her own front bumper.

“Huh,” Yvonne’s mind contemplated, “I guess Hollywood got something right.” She put on her indicator, pulled over into the far left lane, switched on her hazard lights, put on the parking brake, shut off her car, swearing; she really didn’t want to have to administer First Aid. She stepped out onto the safety of the median and surveyed the situation.

Someone was already pulling out the man from the white car (Whew! Yvonne’s First Aid training wasn’t required), a person on a cell phone was looking on. Yvonne’s gaze swiveled. The red truck that the white car had “bumped” into was pulled onto the far right median. Yvonne called out, “Are you okay?”

“I’m pissed, but, yeah, I’m okay.” Yvonne could see across three lanes that the women was still shaking. Yvonne’s gaze continued its survey. Another person was on a cell phone behind the red truck.

Tally:

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Two people on cell phones; no further calls were needed.

Man had now been pulled from white car; extra help wasn’t required.

Woman from truck was unharmed and out of traffic; extra help wasn’t needed there.

What needed to be done? Yvonne looked down-traffic. Cars and headlights were piling up. Traffic control was needed. Yvonne pulled up the black sleeves on her jacket to show her pale arms against the evening darkness and proceeded to wave oncoming traffic through the incident site.

Throughout, Yvonne’s heartbeat never rose above 100 beats/minute. Everything was tallied with a calm, discerning eye, looking to make sure that everything was being taken care of. As she waved traffic through, even her hands were steady.

Well, except when the Fire Department showed up and a very nice, blonde and blue-eyed firefighter approached her. She practically giggled. Not nice behaviour for the site of a car incident.

“Do you need me to do anything? Should I give a statement?” she called out to him. Attempts to control traffic had been thwarted by a fire truck now parked perpendicular to traffic flow. “No, we’ve got it now. Who’s vehicle is that?” he pointed to Yvonne’s car. She affirmed it was hers. “Can you move it over there? And I’ll flag down an officer for your statement when they get here.”

Yes, he was very nice, indeed.

And sure enough, within five minutes, this same angelic firefighter escorted a police officer directly to Yvonne. She gave a statement to the looming, purse-lipped officer, then hopped into her car and took off for the Speed Dating Event she was aiming for. She arrived two minutes early. Maybe she should have asked that firefighter for his number. No, that would have been unseemingly behaviour for the site of a car accident, she reminded herself once again.

Upon reflection, Yvonne should have been catatonic. That car had come within a mere foot of her car. It had flipped over, landed next to her. But, no. Instead, Yvonne had been nearly giddy. Was she a closet adrenaline junkie? No. She was, in fact, a former archaeologist.

Archaeology is a study in crisis management. Shit happens all the time. This car accident was just another day in the field as far as Yvonne’s body and mind were concerned. She had driven in overloaded or misloaded vehicles down icy roads with large wildlife darting in front of her headlights. She’d helped push out a fellow crew lead’s vehicle from a mud patch in the middle of nowhere. She’d been seconds away from watching a crew member load an ATV onto a quad deck (something she did daily) and launch over the roof of the truck because the throttle on the ATV had stuck. She’d jumped from hovering helicopters into muskeg, then had to wade through miles of said shivering muskeg to where they needed to assess, deep in grizzly bear country and without a shotgun. She’d been on the bald ass prairie as the sky turned deadly and they attempted to out pace an incoming tornado.

Yvonne had survived nearly everything the bush and bush work could swing at her. Any day that she could get herself and her crew home and unharmed was a good day. If she could do that AND get the job done, even better.

Crisis management isn’t something that is easily typed onto a resume. It also isn’t something that Yvonne learned at university. But it’s something that every archaeologist is intimately acquainted with, whether they want to be or not. Why is crisis management integral to archaeology? The list is limitless because the possible factors involved in fieldwork are limitless. Anything can happen during a 14-hour drive to the middle of a remote part of the country, with a crew of 20-something city folk who’ve never seen muskeg, don’t know which way to hold a can of bear spray, and where the industry rig workers can be more dangerous than the wildlife. No one can account and prepare for all the possible variables involved in archaeological fieldwork. Something will always slip through the cracks. This is why archaeologists are some of the most resourceful and unflappable people Yvonne will ever know.

So next time you need something done amidst a crisis, call your friendly neighbourhood archaeologist. They might not be the most socially-palatable person, you might not approve of their methodology, but they will get the job done and usually without anyone getting hurt.

~YK

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