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What Godzilla can teach us about emergency preparedness - The Galveston County Daily News : News

October 22, 2014

What Godzilla can teach us about emergency preparedness

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Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 5:35 pm | Updated: 8:06 pm, Sat Jun 7, 2014.

GALVESTON — Did you see Godzilla last weekend? You probably did.  I went and saw it Sunday afternoon.

I’m not exactly sure I saw a good movie, but the climactic battle between the King of All Monsters and the evil giant bug things was very enjoyable. A couple blasts of atomic energy washes away all that unnecessary human drama.

But the city reporter in me — the one who is gearing up for another hurricane season — couldn’t help but think that the fictional San Francisco in the movie seemed to have a really poor evacuation plan.

In the movie, following a devastating monster attack in Honolulu, Hawaii, the U.S. Navy determines that Godzilla is going to end up in San Francisco within 48 hours. We know this because they show a computer generated-tracking model to shows the possible paths he might take to make landfall.

The  buildup to this landfall event involves a lot of locking and loading. Bombs are redesigned. Battle plans drawn. Hand-wringing is in no short supply. What we don’t see is what brings we to my point, if San Francisco knew that a natural disaster was approaching 48 hours in advance; they sure didn’t seem to have a good evacuation plan.

As Godzilla arrives, the fictionalized San Francisco is still teeming with people. The Golden Gate Bridge is packed with fleeing drivers (and for some reason half the lanes are closed to traffic). People are sent underground or to a local football stadium for safety. Hospitals are left occupied, except for the children, who are separated from their parents and put on a bus — which immediately takes them to the Golden Gate Bridge.

These are not people who didn’t have a warning. An entire city had just been destroyed and the news was being broadcast non-stop on the movie’s news stations.

Still, there were people that chose to stay behind.

Following the climatic battle, we are told that hundreds of thousands of people are missing — which, on a good day, means that 1/8 of San Francisco’s is MIA following Godzilla’s arrival

Not good.

As any Galvestonian should know, it’s important to have a plan in advance of major disaster. 

I asked Charlie Kelly, Galveston’s emergency management coordinator, what the island would do if it knew that a major disaster was going to hit in 48 hours. Here’s his response:

Good serious question. If we were informed that a potentially catastrophic event was due to hit Galveston, I would request to the mayor that he/she declare a State of Emergency Declaration and then we would activate our shelter interlocal agreement with Austin and call for an evacuation. We would have to use our backup plan using GISD buses and Island Transit for the evacuation for those that need a ride. (It takes 120 hours to get state buses) We would also use the Emergency “One Call Reaches All” to send out the evacuation notice.

The city’s disaster policies, Kelly reminded me, applies to all hazards, not just hurricanes. So while there isn’t a specific section to address a kaiju attack, it’s broad enough to be adjusted accordingly.

So here’s some things Galvestonians should know, if there’s a clearly approaching disaster:

  • The Galveston Ferry is likely to close in advance of a storm. It is not a reliable way to get off the island;
  • The designated evacuation center on the island is the Island Community Center at 4700 Broadway. That’s where the city will send buses to bring people to evacuate to shuttles in Austin. It’s also where people will be registered, so that they’re not lost during the evacuation;
  • Evacuation will be bad. There are no contraflow lanes on the Gulf Freeway, meaning traffic can’t be reversed to help with evacuation. Still, officials say it’s advisable to stay on main roads during an evacuation, so that if you do have a mechanical or medical problem, help can reach you.
  • If you think you would need help during an evacuation, you can register for assistance by calling the City of Galveston at 409-621-3179.

Godzilla was created as an allegory on the atomic bomb.  There’s a lot of those folly of man overtones in this movie — the bad-guy monsters seek out power sources and weaponry that would be turned against us — but I couldn’t shake the sense that this was a movie about forces of nature too.

Godzilla, the monster, is something that rises out of the ocean and can’t be knocked off its path. It can’t be stopped by bombs or guns or reason.

The best plan is the one that the movies San Franciscans didn’t seem to have: When you see the monster coming toward you, the best strategy is to get out of the way.