Surviving the Apocalypse

On Saturday at 1PM in the Westin F-H, Jaym Gates, Mika McKinnon, and Gail Z. Martin presented a panel discussion called “After the Storm: We Will Rebuild.”  Gates, the moderator, kicked off the discussion by asking how the other panelists felt about the idea that community mindset plays a large role in recovering from an apocalypse.

McKinnon said that community resilience is “an excellent predictor for survival.”  She often tells people who don’t want to make disaster kits or other preparations to throw a party for all their neighbors. Then the neighbors will know where one’s house is and, if they put coats on the bed, where to dig for one’s body if necessary.  Neighbors who know each other will miss anyone who doesn’t turn up when an evacuation is ordered, and neighbors are the true first responders in a disaster.

Martin observed that TV shows featuring a hostile loner standing against all others, and have a lot of backstabbing in the community don’t depict a realistic route to survival.  Those attitudes, she said, “won’t get you far in the long run.  It’s communities that survive.”  She noted that when communities migrate, they do it in groups because being together increases the chance of survival.

Gates said she works with a university to develop “soft” skills in students, developing scenarios for disasters triggering future disasters.  People don’t process the initial delay before emergency responders arrive, which can be up to two days on average, but may be more in remote areas. Meanwhile, disasters spur nervous energy, which can turn bad if not redirected to something positive.

Martin pointed out that losing power leaves everyone with food that has to be cooked and eaten before it spoils, and that people tend to share it rather than grabbing everything in sight and hoarding it because “You can’t hoard rotting chicken.”

McKinnon described the four stages of disaster recovery–mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery–with the recovery phase also serving as mitigation for the next disaster.

The panelists also discussed the responses of businesses to disasters.  Martin cited the diligence of the Belk department store chain in providing necessities and keeping track of their associates after Hurricane Rita, and McKinnon added that there aren’t enough government employees on hand to manage everything, that non-governmental organization, trained volunteers, and corporations are necessary to fill all the needs.  Large businesses are not limited to money matching as aid, noting that Anheuser Busch switches its production from beer to bottled water after every major disaster.

Gates pointed out that social media affect how responses happen, can be used to organize, and can be a marketing technique.

The panel touched on larger, more regional disasters like rising sea levels and the possibility of a cascade of magnitude-eight or -nine earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest. McKinnon said it’s now too late to avoid problems in Miami, New Orleans, and other places.  Gates added that preparing years ago would’ve made it possible to move more people out.  As conditions grow worse, only those who are fairly well off will be able to leave.  The poor and disadvantaged will have no choice but to stay.

Martin recommended the TV program Life After People as a realistic depiction of how quickly certain systems will fail in the event of a widespread disaster. Gates indicated that people are so reluctant to prepare for major disasters that it may take a series of disasters to get people to prepare.  Survival will require knowledge of how to preserve food and raise livestock.

“Save the veterinarians,” McKinnon put in, explaining that veterinarians are still generalists, and may be less dependent on high-tech equipment.

“Ten years later,” Gates asked, “what will society be like?” McKinnon said the wide-scale loss of knowledge often depicted on TV and in movies is not accurate.  Knowledge that isn’t useful may fade out, but people tell stories and pass knowledge that way.

Martin noted that people like the Amish—“and probably the SCA [Society for Creative Anachronism]”—have a lot of knowledge about a simpler lifestyle. The Amish have never stopped living it. Gates pointed out the importance of libraries in preserving knowledge.

An audience member asked what common form of preparation is the least useful, and which things people don’t often do but should. Gates said stockpiling guns, especially ones using specialized ammo that can be hard to get, won’t be helpful.  Martin interjected that using ammunition that blows the deer up means one can’t then eat it.  Gates added that people should pay more attention to water purification that is not dependent on tablets.

McKinnon described pre-made disaster kits as useless because needs vary with types of disasters and from person to person.  Building community resilience would be a better choice. Gates also suggested taking an emergency response class.

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.