San Andreas for Preppers: 12 Earthquake Survival Lessons from the Movie
Nothing warms my prepper’s heart more than a good disaster movie that supports my hypotheses about a specific event, and the recent movie San Andreas was no exception.
Okay, sure, there was some pretty unrealistic stuff like when The Rock was driving a boat through post-tsunami San Francisco and just happened to find his daughter that he was looking for. The last time I went to San Francisco, my daughter and I had trouble finding each other on the first floor of Forever 21, for crying out loud.
But, when you only have two hours for a movie, you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief somewhat and put that kind of stuff aside. So. putting that aside, I enthusiastically recommend the movie. We live about 4 hours from San Francisco and go there occasionally for educational outings to the excellent museums, so the setting was quite familiar to us, as was the premise of what would occur if an earthquake happened there. So familiar that my daughter was the frequent recipient of my elbow, as I whispered, “See!!!! I told you this was what would happen if the Big One hit that time we went to the Science Museum!” Trooper that she is, she said, “Yes, Mom, I know, you were right about that too.” Since she’s a teenager, she probably also rolled her eyes each time, but it was dark and I can’t be absolutely certain of that.
As I’ve said before, you can’t overestimate the value of finding entertainment that enhances your preparedness mindset. A movie is like the prepper version of a sporting event, where we can cheer, jeer, and scheme our ways through some imagined event. It engages our love for critical thinking while allowing us to take a break from our everyday activities. (Here’s my list of 40 prepper movies you can find online.) I know that some folks don’t go to the movies or engage in any form of popular culture, which is certainly a matter of personal choice. It’s not an everyday thing for us to go to the movies, but I’m of the firm belief that a prepared lifestyle doesn’t have to be bereft of fun, especially if you want your children to get involved. I try to enjoy outings like this with my kids every once in a while. We really liked the movie, and the special effects were incredible in 3D.
Here are 12 things that interested me, as a prepper, about San Andreas. I’ll try really hard to be vague enough that I don’t spoil the movie.
- People panic and behave badly. In every disaster movie, there’s always someone more concerned with his or her own skin than the skin of a loved one, and this is no exception. Life-threatening terror brings out the worst in many people. As shown in the movie, some first responders will bail to take care of their own families. The bottom line is, you can’t rely on others to save you. Also, it helps to have some knowledge of engineering and basic physics, too.
- People panic and behave stupidly. During the panic of the aftermath of The Big One, people do the dumbest things. This is true of real life too, and part of the reason for this is cognitive dissonance. People are so complacent about the stability of their everyday lives that it is difficult for them to function when something horrible and out of the ordinary occurs. Having a mindset that plays through potential disasters ahead of time makes it far easier to accept it when something terrible happens, which in turn, makes it easier to make a viable plan and then act on it in a manner that will aid in survival instead of running around like a chicken without a head.
- Drop, cover, and hold on. The seismologist guy repeated the same information over and over, but most of the time, people failed to listen. When huge chunks of cement are flying at you, running down the road is not always the best course of action. The very best thing you can do is get down under something big and stable and hold on tightly. According to the US Department of Labor, the quake itself doesn’t cause injuries, the aftermath of structural damage causes injuries: “Most earthquake-related injuries result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects as a result of the ground shaking, or people trying to move more than a few feet during the shaking.” Structural damage to buildings would be vast in a quake like the one depicted. (Here’s more information on potential structural damage.) PS: Your car is not a big, stable place to go to for cover. (source) Knowing what to expect in the event of an earthquake is very important.
- The ability to communicate is vital. In the aftermath of a major disaster, your cell phone is very unlikely to work. Partly because everyone else will be trying to use their phones at the same time, and partly because local towers may also have been affected by the disaster. If you live in (or are visiting) an earthquake prone area, a secondary communications device is essential. This article about an earthquake preparedness kit has some excellent suggestions. Remember that landlines often work when the internet and cell phones do not.
- Also vital: basic first aid skills. Remember above, where I quoted how must injuries come about from the destruction of buildings? After the earthquake in Haiti, the CDC reported that the most common injuries were fractures/dislocations, wound infections, and head, face, and brain injuries. Doctors performed wound debridements, amputations, and treatment for orthopedic trauma from crushing injuries. You need to know how to remove debris that might cause further damage, immobilize an injured limb, stop bleeding, apply a tourniquet, and clean a wound at the very least. It also helps if you have some supplies on hand or know where to find them.
- You should always have a plan for the family to meet. In the movie, the family has a meeting place planned. This is not something that should be left for the day of a horrible event. You should always have a plan for your family in the event that you can’t communicate. It helps if you can fly (and steal) a helicopter like The Rock, but since most of us don’t have access to that resource, we have to make other plans. My family always sets up meeting places in case we get separated and my kids know to go there and wait. Actually, we did this from the time they were little and my oldest daughter got in the middle of a clothing rack to “surprise mommy” and I couldn’t find her.
- You always need a backup plan. In the event that Plan A isn’t going to work, you need to have a Plan B. (And C and D and so on.) It’s really helpful if your family knows what Plan B is so that you are able to meet up and not hope to just randomly find one another. Again, this goes to thinking things through BEFORE a disaster occurs. You MUST be adaptable to survive.
- When one disaster happens, others soon follow. This is a frequent truth of disasters. When one thing goes wrong, some other horrible event is often triggered by that. This was true in the movie, with things like looters, instability of structures which collapsed later, rifts in the roads, and oh yeah, a tsunami.
- Don’t forget tsunamis. For the love of all things cute and fluffy, if you are anywhere near the coast and an earthquake happens, GO UP. Do not wait until you see the ocean draw outward or you see the gigantic wave approaching. You aren’t going to be able to outrun it, no matter how fit you are. Immediately seek the highest point around if an earthquake occurs when you are near the coast. We take this a step further when we visit the coast and map out the high points beforehand. I was gratified that my two San Francisco high points were the ones noted in the movie. There is also some good advice if you just happen to be out boating when a tsunami is approaching.
- Don’t take the closest evacuation route, take the safest evacuation route. Because San Francisco is the point of a peninsula, it’s most directly connected to the rest of the state by long bridges. I’ve always thought it would be a terrible idea to attempt to evacuate over those bridges in the aftermath of a disaster, since a) everyone else will be doing the same thing, resulting in gridlock and b) the structure of the bridges is likely to be weakened or damaged by a huge quake and c) a tsunami coming into the bay would sweep vehicle right off the bridge even if it held up. Oh – and d – there are sharks in the water below – lots of them, which is why Alcatraz is in the middle of the bay. I’m sure they’d just love an all-you-can-eat bridge collapse buffet. But I digress – my personal evacuation route out of the city is south, to where the peninsula joins the mainland. On foot, in a car, doesn’t matter – that is the safest route, although quite a bit further. Anytime we go to San Francisco, I set up a rally point south of the city for a friend to come and pick us up should such an event occur.
- Bring sensible shoes. Ladies, no matter how nice we look in heels, fleeing for your life in them doesn’t sound like much fun to me. In the movie, my daughter and I both cringed thinking about how awful it would be to have to climb out of debris in general and how doubly awful it would be to have to do it in non-sensible footwear. If you have to wear heels, at least have something sensible in your bag.
- Gather supplies whenever you see them. While everyone else is panicking, if you have your wits about you, you’ll be able to gather up supplies that will help you survive. Look for things like bottled water, communication devices, first aid supplies, tools, knives, lighters, and food.
Have you seen the movie yet? What did you think? Do you have any survival lessons to add?