Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Natural disasters: a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary with lots of disaster videos!

Natural disasters made for a great hour's chat! We started out talking about how different regions are susceptible to different kinds of disasters. California is known for its earthquakes. Oklahoma is known for tornadoes, and Florida for hurricanes (less well for sinkholes!). Some kinds of disasters can be predicted, and some can't. For some, you only get a very short warning. In regions that are susceptible, children are taught how to respond to keep themselves safe.

Technology has improved the prediction of many kinds of disasters. Tornadoes are somewhat predictable, though their precise path is not. Tsunami can now be predicted by a few minutes. Earthquakes are far harder to predict (I've never actually experienced an earthquake after an earthquake warning).

In earthquakes, you want to stay away from bookshelves (any loaded shelves really) and glass. The strength of the earthquake is measured by the Richter scale, but the effect of the quake depends on your infrastructure preparedness. California has building codes that minimize the effect of earthquakes. Other regions of the world do not, and experience far more destruction and loss of life. Tall buildings can be designed to sway, both in earthquakes and in hurricanes.

Brian noted that in the Netherlands, houses are not built on foundations, but on anchors. Floodwater raises the house with air tanks. The Netherlands also has tide barriers.

On the Gulf coast, houses are often built on stilts, with garage and storage on the ground floor in case of floods.

We made a list of all the types of disasters we could think of (and I'm sure we missed some): earthquake, flood, hurricane, tornado, tsunami, volcanic eruption (lava, explosion, ash), sinkhole, blizzard, landslide, mudslide, forest fire, asteroid, explosive sinkhole, lightning or severe thunderstorm, large hail, polar vortex, drought, ice storm, sandstorm, dust storm... We even thought of a fictional disaster: Thread, from the Anne McCaffrey books!

This video, "A Day in Pompeii" is an incredible dramatization of the destruction of Pompeii by the volcano, and I highly recommend it:

A volcanic disaster also features stunningly in the Firebird sequence of the film Fantasia 2000:
Disasters of this kind have an enormous effect on an area, and preparedness for them has an enormous effect on the culture of an area. Anne McCaffrey did an amazing job playing out the cultural consequences of Threadfall in her books, and N. K. Jemisin's book The Fifth Season deals with seismic disasters that befall humans so regularly (in this secondary world) that everything about their life has changed.

There can be different perspectives on disaster. Lava falling into the sea encourages the development of new life forms, fire helps certain types of tree seeds to germinate, and specially adapted organisms survive in calderas and geysers.

Che recommended the disaster movie Reign of Fire. We asked whether The Wizard of Oz could be called a disaster movie (probably not, but it features a tornado rather prominently!).

What is the impact of a disaster? Is it like armageddon? Are there techniques to mitigate it? In a sandstorm, do you have special fabric to keep the sand out of your face (nose and mouth)?

After a disaster, people have an instinct to reach out to their loved ones and friends to check up on them. When I was a kid, the phone lines would get all tied up after an earthquake. These days we have the services of social media, as when Facebook set up a site where people could check on victims of the Nepal earthquake. Often, people are urged to text rather than call.

I also highly recommended the following documentary, by ESPN, called "The Day the Series Stopped" which explores the 1989 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area. Please be aware that some of the images are graphic.

One of the interesting things about a disaster that forces you to hide or hunker down is that you can't tell how bad the damage is until you come out and start getting in touch with people.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this discussion. It was a fascinating one.


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