Say there is a civilian ship going less than the speed of light, travelling from one star to the next. In the event that pirates board the ship (or some other dangerous situation, like a hull breach for example), what would be the standard procedure for a normal civilian to do in this situation? Because this civilian ship can hold lots of people, there aren't enough/any escape pods for level 1 civilians.
A lot depends on your assumptions about drive technology, etc. Some points to consider:
- Are escape pods making any sense at all? A spaceship won't "sink" when it is damaged, it just goes on. Escape pods would make sense if staying with the wreck is dangerous (reactors going critical? crashing into a planet?) and if the escape pod can maneuver.
- If escape pods make sense, wouldn't regulations require them for all passengers, plus some spares? A society where only some passengers get escape pods would be quite unfair by early 21st century standards.
Having said that, the procedure should be to go some designated safety area with reinforced bulkheads and emergency supplies. That way the (few) trained crew can supervise the (many) untrained passengers, and there is less risk of an injured passenger dying alone from a preventable mishap. For a large ship, perhaps multiple assembly areas.
Space between star systems is huge. Even the distance inside star systems is so big that you need months. Let's play with the possibilities: The escape pods are deployed inside a star system. Without FTL they would still have to support the crew for possibly weeks, if not months. If ships have FTL: how close can you jump without endangering the pods? Now let's say the escape pods are deployed between 2 star systems. As stated, this ship doesn't have any form of FTL-drives. That means that one trip takes several generations. Even if you can get into a pod, how long will it take to get to you? If no ship passes this spot in years, only a stasis system would make you survive. But can you build one into a small escape pod? How long can it last? What are the consequences of missing generations? If born on a ship for more than 1 generation, this could be more tolerable.
My personal opinion: Don't ever abandon your ship on high sea. Either you get things fixed or you die anyway. Knowing that there won't be a pitstop for decades, ships need to be built to be capable of fixing everything on the go. Simple stuff like hull breaches could even be automated. Pirates will linger close to habitation, so you could guard the ships for the first year or so of travel if you encounter a high density of attacks.
I don't see a whole lot of reason for escape pods in a space ship if there isn't FTL travel.
Let's take pirates. What good would it do you to run away and abandon ship? The ship is going to be well stocked and chances are you will outnumber the pirates, either give them what they want or run (the whole ship) or fight. If you run to an escape pod, you are not going anywhere fast, you have to worry about supplies since it won't be big enough to produce them for you (unlike a large ship with gardens etc). You'll need oxygen too for a long trip. On top of that you are going to be sitting ducks that can be picked off at leisure by the pirates if there is still anything they want from you.
Hull breach. The ship is still the safest place to be. Bulkheads will close to reduce the loss of air, like a large ocean ship will close off sections when they spring a leak. There can even be special space suits to have an emergency air supply to help those in the damaged area get to an intact bulkhead. Then emergency response suits up, helps those that still need it and close the breaches. Spreading out in escape pods you would pretty much need to have a very serious problem on the ship, be on a very heavily traveled route and have lots of supplies to survive.
There is generally a reason our space ships are not going to be the size of luxury yachts, because they wouldn't be able to have the ability to transport large groups over vast distances. And having enough escape pods to would be a huge waste of resources that could be used to supply the ship and keep it running.
I think this is a close analogy to the question "In the event that hijackers attempt to take over an aeroplane in flight, what would be the standard procedure for a normal civilian to do in this situation?" So, this probably works as an answer to your question, with "airline" swapped for "spaceship" and "hijacker" swapped for "pirate". http://www.nationalterroralert.com/hijacking_survival/
Given the vastness of space, an escape pod wold have to be as capable of the spaceship itself in order to be of any use. Considering with current and near term technology it will take about six months just to reach a nearby planet like Mars, travelling at STL speeds to the stars will take centuries to millennia. (indeed, the most "feasible" means of reaching Alpha Centauri using a manned craft involves making a very close pass by the Sun while unfurling a solar sail; the projected flight time is @ 1000 years).
Instead of abandoning the ship, the ship itself needs to be made into thousands of interconnected yet independent "bubble" ecosystems. If one were to fail for any reason, it could be isolated and (depending on the emergency) sealed from the rest of the ship or the crew on board removed and placed in a different bubble. If each bubble can be isolated, then invading pirates, infectious disease or computer malware and other threats can be contained. In the worst case, they might even be ejected from the ship and cast into space.
Ships built like this will be large, possibly created from a cored out asteroid or built like the 1980 era "Island 3" space colonies but filled with bubbles, rather than a vast open area. Spaceships might be huge on the outside, but pretty claustrophobic inside.