I haven't had the chance to see 2012 yet. I'm not particularly fond of disaster movies - I either find myself laughing at times that make the rest of the audience uncomfortable or bore my family with running commentaries. I did, however, catch a History Channel show that purported to have some science behind it. In fairness, after an hour of hype (more fun than most disaster movies, by the way), they actually did air the parts of the interviews where the scientists say that the triggering events on which the film was based have no actual impact on the earth.
The show reminded me of a historical lecture I once attended. The speaker hammered us on the importance of dealing only with facts. He then speculated about a document whose existence he felt could be inferred from existing documents and built up a whole theory leading to some controversial conclusions based solely on this non-existent document. So much for dealing with fact.
Like most of you, I end up having to answer questions about potential events like 2012. (I actually don't get asked much about 2012 after I point out that the Gregorian calendar ends on December 31, 2009.) I think it is important that we as emergency managers maintain our objectivity about the "disaster of the month" and use it as an opportunity to emphasize personal preparedness. We need to be the voices of reason by demonstrating an understanding of the true risks associated with the current media-driven fear and putting those risks in context.
One of the reasons that I suggest that emergency managers study historical disasters is that there truly is nothing new under the sun. Pick your disaster. Earthquakes? A recent book, Apocalypse: Earthquakes, Archeology, and the Wrath of Godby Amos Nur, breaks ranks with traditional archeology to suggest that the destruction of early civilization by earthquake was much more prevalent than we previously thought. Floods of biblical proportions? Read Ryan and Pitman's Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event that Changed History. Super-volcanoes whose explosions cause year-long winters? Try Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of Modern Civilization by David Keys. Plague? Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe by William Rosen demonstrates the impact of worldwide pandemic. Climate change? See Brian Fagan's The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations or any of his other books on historical climate change.
It really has all happened before. Even so-called "unthinkable" events such as a reversal of the earth's magnetic poles or asteroid strikes have occurred in the past, some fairly recently (the 1908 Tunguska event was believed to be caused by a meteor or asteroid) . Are there risks associated with potential catastrophic events? Of course there are. However, it is important to put those risks in their historical context - it's all happened before, it will happen again, and we as a race will most likely survive. The human race is remarkably resilient. The only real question is do we live in fear or do we put those fears to rest with facts and get on with our lives?