For those that have attended my Chasing4Life community events, you know that I love disaster movies. Every few weeks, you can spend an entire Sunday afternoon watching one after another. When I speak at these events I like to talk about how obsessed America is with disaster, but it is sad to say that we are not nearly as prepared for disaster as we are excited about them.
When a natural disaster (or any disaster for that matter) occurs, we will sit riveted to the television watching update after update as CNN changes on screen graphics and shows us the same footage over and over. We’ll watch, sometimes cry, and usually will eventually walk away glad that it was not here, not our family and relieved it was not us.
As television and social media has evolved, watching disasters has gotten easier. There are few in this country that do not have the ability to “plug in” to watch one as it happens. Documentaries will follow so we can relive the disaster through another’s eyes, and then of course… the movie is made.
As I said, I love these movies. For years I have watched them as most Americans; laughing at the poor production, the cheesey special effects and the horrible “love story” plots that seem to permeate almost every movie… after all, what better time to make out than when the world is falling apart and you are both covered in sweat and mud?
This past weekend I watched Dantes Peak, a 1997 film starring Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton. I have to admit on a personal note, I have always thought that Linda Hamilton was one of the only disaster queens that could hold her own against Helen Hunt.
In the movie, a good-looking volcanologist, Harry Dalton (Brosnan) arrives at a countryside named Dante's Peak after a long dormant volcano, which has recently been named the second most desirable place to live in America, and discovers that Dante's Peak, may wake up at any moment. He of course interacts with Mayor Rachel Wando (Hamilton) of this beautiful mountainside oasis and eventually falls in love with her amidst the mountain erupting and destroying the entire region.
Ridiculous. Really, the entire movie is ridiculous. Our hero seems impervious to sulfur dioxide, he drives an old truck across burning lava with his tires on fire, is caught in a mountain side collapse of rocks that easily weigh 3 tons each, paddles a boat through acid with his hand wrapped in his jacket all to eventually lock lips with Hamilton surrounded by hundreds of rescuers while standing in 14 inches of volcanic ash.
Why do we watch this crap? Because it is how we want it to end. Deep down inside of each of us, we know that it could happen, but as long as we can watch these movies with their poor plots and even worse adherence to scientific fact and physical laws, we can tell ourselves that IF it happens here, we will have the adventure of a lifetime and come out the other side sexier and happier.
The fact is this: that is not how it will end. In fact, it never ends that way.
Over the course of our adult lives we will watch dozens, maybe even hundreds of disasters on television. We will interact on social media during these disasters, read the paper, look up reports in Google and basically become bystanders to every disaster that happens both near and far. Perhaps what we need to do is watch these movies again and start thinking…
You see, the plots are horrible, the scenarios outlandish, but the disasters are very real. From Twister to Dantes Peak, from Category 7 to Earthquake, the disasters could happen and they could change our world.
2010 was the deadliest year in a generation and we watched it in our living rooms. 2011 was an incredible year for disasters here in the States, and forecasts for 2012 are not much better. We have watched climatic changes, increased terroristic threats and crumbling infrastructure take lives like never before, but we have done very little at home to prepare for any of it.
It is as if we feel we do not need to act until it happens. Like in the movies, when the disaster occurs, we will become suddenly resourceful, know how to hotwire a car, make a boat from a tarp, be able to reroute lava and we’ll be the hero…
The continued complacency and procrastination that we all have when it comes to disasters needs to change and it needs to change now. Watching it happen, sharing about it and monitoring Tweets has placed us in a very unstable position as an American community… we’re boiling to death in our complacency.
What do I mean?
The lesson comes from one conversation in Dantes Peak…
As Brosnan’s USGS team prepares to leave the mountainside village of people that don’t think it will ever happen, he shares with a team member this bit of wisdom:
Brosnan: “My 9th grade science teacher always said that if you put a frog in boiling hot water, it would jump out. But put it in cold water, and heat it up gradually, it would slowly boil to death.”
Team Member: “What's that Harry? Your recipe for frog soup?”
Brosnan: “It's my recipe for a disaster”
This week’s weather alone should draw some concern from the depths of your imagination. Snow, wind, hail, flooding, temperature extremes, tornadoes… welcome to 2012. How long will you sit in the water as it gets warmer?
Go ahead and watch the movies again, but this time, ask yourself… would I be ready if it happened here? There’s no stunt people in real life, and certainly no second takes.