Emergency managers have to deal with many unusual problems during a disaster. Floods in particular can cause some very strange situations when things that should remain buried suddenly surface. But a recent flood in Tbilisi, Georgia, posed a problem that, while not necessarily unique, is certainly uncommon.
Torrential rains over the weekend caused a landslide that blocked a local stream. The backed up water eventually broke through, causing the Vere River to overflow and flood the Tbilisi Zoo which is situated along the banks of the river. While many of the animals drowned, a number managed to escape, including a hippopotamus that swam out of its enclosure and was founding eating the leaves of trees in the central Heroes’ Square. Also escaped were a number of bears, lions, tigers, jaguars and wolves. The hippopotamus was recovered after being shot with a tranquilizer dart but a number of the other animals were reportedly shot by police. In all, four lions, three tigers and two jaguars were either drowned or shot while four lions, three tigers, and one jaguar are still missing.
This poses an interesting problem for responders. While no one disputes the need to shoot an animal if it is attacking, how do you balance the competing interests of public safety and the need to recover as many animals as possible? Do you impose a shoot-on-site order? What happens if the animal is not threatening but is hampering rescue efforts by its presence in the area? What message do you send the public?
It’s an interesting problem. Have you checked your zoo’s emergency plans lately?
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!