By now you’ve probably heard about the new disaster movie, San Andreas, which is looking like a box office smash. I haven’t seen it yet, but my son has and he said he had a good laugh. I’m afraid he’s picked up some of my bad habits: I tend to laugh at rather inappropriate parts of disaster movies, which is why none of my friends invite me to see one. I can’t help it. Some of the situations are so implausible and the science behind them is usually sadly lacking.
Unfortunately, as much as I giggle at disaster movies there are those who take them way too seriously and actually believe the nonsense presented on the screen. So I was very impressed by my colleagues at the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management turning this around by using the movie as an opportunity to engage the public.
SFDEM hosted a special screening of the movie recently and followed it up with a question and answer session from a panel of experts. The group did more than just debunk some of the more glaring scientific howlers in the movie, though. They used elements of the film to highlight positive lessons on earthquake preparedness such as:
- The use of “Duck, cover, and hold”
- Family reunification plans and out of area contacts
- Prior training in first aid
- Tsunami warning signs
The screening was a success, by all accounts and, more importantly, garnered a fair bit of media coverage, extending the reach of the message. By being proactive instead of waiting for media or public enquiries, SFDEM reached a lot of people with a message that was both reassuring and emphasized the importance of preparedness. SFDEM probably just saved a lot of lives in the next earthquake – and had fun doing it!