In the monster blockbuster reboot Godzilla, when the iconic kaiju and his radioactive cousins stomp onto U.S. soil, they have to contend with the force of the American military. In expected man vs. monster action, our armed forces unleash hell in an attempt to save cities and bring down the beasts. But if it were to happen in real life, good ol' Gojira and pals would also have to deal with Dorothy Lowry.
Although she prefers the title "Duchess of Disaster," Lowry, RN, MSN, is Senior Associate of Public Health Disaster Preparedness and Response for The Olson Group, Ltd., a private company that supports local, state and federal government entities. Lowry -- a former Army nurse and medic with 16 years of service who focused on mass casualty care -- basically gets paid to think about, and prepare plans for, the worst case scenarios to hit mankind and to save "small chunks of the world at a time."
"Not wussy disasters, either," she said. "I do the big ones."
And she also just happens to be a pop culture nerd. So, with Godzilla back in full force on our movie screens, it seemed like a good time to chat with the disaster expert about concerns associated with monster attacks. In the following interview, she reveals the larger concerns with large creature attacks (kaiju poop!), why Godzilla is like other natural disasters and how the zombie apocalypse fits in.
As a disaster prep pro, what's the very first thing that springs to mind when you see the Godzilla trailer?
OK, I'll be honest. The first thing that springs to mind is that [actor] Aaron Taylor-Johnson is pretty hot. On a slightly more professional note, in rapid-fire succession, I think:
"I could totally kick his ass": This is because it's my job to think that. Godzilla, zombies, aliens, you name it; me and mine will kick their asses. We plan, practice and train so that this is pretty much true, too. Not saying it would be a cake-walk, because where's the challenge in that? Or that it'll be squared away in 121 minutes not counting previews, but yeah, Godzilla's going down. Eventually.
"Ohhhh, you're so going to need a Stafford Act request": All disasters start and end locally. This means that the cavalry is not coming unless the locals ask the state for additional resources and, if needed, the state asks the federal government to provide assistance. Since the Constitution is really prickly about the Feds moving troops and tanks and incidental tactical nuclear devices into states without an invite, a Stafford Act disaster declaration is needed to free up federal dollars and assets to roll in and help.
"How the hell do you mitigate this?": So, disaster response has phases. A couple of phases happen before a disaster occurs, including Preparedness and Mitigation. Preparedness means you get ready to respond to the disasters you know are likely in your area. Mitigation means you prevent, if you can, or lessen the impact of an incident.
Now, I can't think of a hazard assessment outside of Tokyo that includes a threat assessment for "Effing Huge Radioactive Dinosaurs," so preparedness for that specific threat is shot, although technically you should be prepared to rock-n-roll on anything that comes your way. Even monsters.
You could mitigate, though. For example, your state could mandate dinosaur-proof building codes (instead of building to hurricane categories like, "My house can withstand a Category 4 Hurricane," it'd be like, "We will have only minor damage from a Mothra or Rodan incident, and the building would still be standing after a Godzilla tail-swish").
Recovery will suck. So, the last phase of emergency response is recovery. This will happen after the credits roll and ostensibly before the sequel comes out. People think the work ends after the hero strolls off the screen or blows himself up a la Bruce Willis in Armageddon.
No. The real work comes when you have to clean up the mess. And pay for cleaning up the mess. Is your house or car covered for Godzilla destruction? Probably not. Is your city flush enough to completely rebuild? Do all the Home Depots and Lowes in America have enough stuff to fix the damage? Probably not. Does your senator have enough pull to get you serious relief funding? Better hope so.
Damn. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is hot.
How is a walking radioactive-breath monster like other natural disasters?
Sounds like a trick question on the face of it, right? Because fire-breathing, lightning-spitting rampaging 350-foot lizards are not exactly commonplace, and aside from the initial propensity to holler "Oh $#$@!" and run screaming, there aren't a lot of similarities between the movie and real life.
A couple thoughts for you:
- Joplin Tornado
- San Francisco Earthquake
Godzilla is a force of nature whose occurrence may be somewhat predictable (if you've seen a Godzilla movie, you know they had it coming because they should know the consequences of nuking lizards), but nonetheless unstoppable, sort of like a tornado.
Godzilla is going to mess your stuff up. Big time. Just like a big earthquake striking a densely populated area with lackluster construction codes.
Any opportunity nature has to conspire with man-made vulnerabilities to screw with people, you want to believe that nature will catch that pass and run to the end zone with it. Fuku-dang-shima, y'all.
Godzilla, especially given a good box office this summer, will be back. Bank on it. So will earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, influenza and random nuclear screw-ups. Bank on it.
I just heard an interview in which Random Air Force Airman (sincerely, thanks for your service, kid, but stay out of my lane) opined that the Air Force would take out Godzilla handily with 4 or 5 helicopters, a couple .50 cals, and I don't know, some Sidewinder missiles or something.
OK right. When I was in the military they had rules against smoking crack...
To quote a friend of mine (a retired Army Colonel and a straight up badass operator), "The enemy gets a vote." Godzilla, like blizzards, does not tend to conduct business the way you will find convenient or pleasant. Neither Godzilla nor hurricanes acquiesce to your countermeasures based on what you hope will work because that's what you've got on hand or are familiar with. Hope, dear Airman, is not a method.
Also, as in all natural disasters, Godzilla response is not a one-organization show. The Air Force all by its lonesome just shooting Godzilla and blowing him up would be a dull movie. Also, it would not work. Here're some questions right off the top of my disaster response head:
• So flyboy, you going to shoot a 35-story tall T-Rex in the middle of town so he flops dead onto the only hospital? That could have some downsides. Might want to think about your second and third order effects and come up with other ways to slow Big Green's roll.
• Who's dealing with the radiation hazard during this epic air battle (which Godzilla would win in about 20 seconds flat and then we'd be onto plan B) and then who's cleaning up toxic Godzilla guts if, hypothetically, this plan works (which it won't)? The Marines have an excellent Hazardous Materials Response unit (CBIRF - Chemical Biological Response Force) as do a number of other state and federal agencies, so at the very least AF is sharing the love.
By the way, radioactive Godzilla poop is a whole different story about the secondary public health hazards related to natural disasters.
There are other monsters in the film as well. Are there situations you plan for which include multiple disasters happening at once?
A brilliant question! This is true of disaster response: if you think things are going well, you're probably missing something. In fact, in a large disaster, you rarely have only one issue with which to contend, so the short answer is that we always plan for multiple disasters happening at once.
Let's say Godzilla shows up and trashes your city. And he's kind of a bastard so he breathes fire and things start burning, too. Also, he's hosting Kaiju-Con in the middle of town so all his nasty monster friends show up. But wait, there's more! Because of us, they're all radioactive! Good times! Never happen in the real world you say?
Let's say there's a 9.0 earthquake 70 clicks off the Oshika Peninsula of Tohoku, Japan. It really wrecks everyone's day. Gas lines rupture, fires start, water mains break and things are generally crappy. Just as the response to this disaster and its secondary consequences gets rolling, along comes the earthquake's companion: tsunami. Let's remember back a few paragraphs: Fuku-dang-shima? Two separate but related natural disasters plus some human engineering that didn't measure up to the extreme nature of the disaster equals a very bad day for emergency managers.
Remember what I said about Godzilla poop? In real-world Japan 2011, responders and emergency managers have not only physical damage, infrastructure collapse and massive displaced populations with which to contend, they also have a long-term radiation-related public health disaster on top of the typical disease-borne pubic health disaster you could predict just based on the nature of the beast.
Godzilla could not have done better trashing Japan had he tried.
The fact is that even with a garden-variety one-off disaster like a tornado, there are always potential ramifications for more chaos. More tornadoes spin in. It gets really hot out with no electricity to prevent heat injuries. There aren't enough resources to provide health care. The storm causes fires and building collapses. It goes on and on.
The goal is to make sure that you are as prepared as possible beforehand through mitigation and that you aren't the cause of any of the subsequent disasters through lack of planning or poor planning (like thinking you can take Godzilla out with a helicopter and some bullets) after the fact. Also, avoiding creation of radioactive monsters is a good idea too. Someone should write a plan for that.
Why or why not would you prefer dealing with Godzilla over asteroids or zombies.
Oh, I can argue both sides of this coin. Godzilla is a relatively contained scene vs. zombies ranging all over your country. Zombie eradication is like herding cats. You have to coordinate resources across a broad area involving numerous jurisdictions, all of whom have varying levels of preparedness and resources. Any weak spot is going to perpetuate your zombie problem. One monster might be easier from a tactical response point of view.
Conversely, zombies are demonstrably neutralized with conventional tactics (assuming that the fictional response to fictional entities is accurate - wrap your head around that after a few drinks. It's fun!). As freaking awesome as I think Daryl Dixon is, he is not bringing down Godzilla with his bow. Even if, say, Jeremy Renner suits up as Hawkeye to lend a hand, it won't work. I would, however, be willing to maybe hit the hot tub with both of them after they tried to help them relax and feel better about their epic failure... Oh, did I say that out loud?
Asteroids? Asteroids have the potential to make Godzilla look like Farm-league ball. Asteroids are the majors. Assume an Apophis-sized asteroid (330 meters squared), which is impressive but not a planet killer. No sense in even worrying about those if you've blown mitigation and impact is inevitable (See also Dr. Ed Lu and the B612 Foundation dedicated to detecting near-earth asteroids and preventing impacts -- Good stuff!)
Anyway, what's the impact effect of a mediocre asteroid hit? Well, if you want to have a really good time go to Purdue's Impact: Earth! site. You can input metrics for your impactor (including presets for Apophis and some other standard models) and calculate the outcomes of a hit. Just to be a complete disaster cow I had Apophis hit New York at a 45-degree angle with strictly middle of the road speeds. Impact crater 3 miles wide and over a mile deep. At a position 1000 miles away dust and larger fragments will start raining down in 11 minutes. The airblast would hit in 1.3 hours. At 1000 mile distance it'd sound like heavy traffic and the overpressure wouldn't be disastrous. At 20 miles you'd be screwed though. In terms of the entire planet, this is not a huge deal. Ok, not a huge deal from the actual impact -- It doesn't significantly alter the earths orbit or cause a huge lose of earth mass.
The national and global economic ruin and infrastructure collapse that would probably follow afterwards? No thanks. I'll take my chances with Godzilla, Godzuki and Rodan. At the very least I could climb on Mothra with those freaky little twins and fly away.