Can Disaster Movies Help Us Prepare for a Disaster?

For many who believe it’s important to prepare for an uncertain future, it’s difficult not to love a good disaster or post-apocalypse movie.

But can you really learn anything about disaster preparation from them? I’m thinking… no.

In fact, some of them give us a good laugh at Hollywood’s more absurd takes on what is humanly possible.

But if your kids or grandkids see these disaster movies, they might only learn fear and not how to prepare. Fortunately, there are episodes on television, and now on the Internet, created to teach children in an age-appropriate manner.

Episodes have been produced by Sesame Street and Arthur on PBS and Doc McStuffins and Disney Jr. on the Disney channel. There are also printable guidelines aimed at youngsters on the FEMA and Red Cross websites. Finding such teaching resources is as simple as Googling “disaster preparedness for children.”

Sesame Street first addressed the topic of disaster recovery in an episode in which Big Bird loses his home in a hurricane, a show that was rebroadcast after Hurricane Sandy. Friends and neighbors unite to help him find temporary shelter and rebuild his nest, supporting him as he copes with his emotions.

Sesame Street’s “Let’s Get Ready” series offers ideas for teaching kids important identification information if family members become separated, as well as apps, workbook pages and short videos.

Also from PBS, an episode of Arthur showed the characters coping with the aftermath of a hurricane and generated videos and lessons online at

After Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans chapter of the American Red Cross partnered with Disney on a program to encourage children to pack a pillowcase of emergency supplies in the event of an evacuation.

They produced print pieces, a public service video and Monster Guard, an app game that teaches preparing for different types of emergencies.

Disney expanded the pillowcase project with a series of videos with characters from the Doc McStuffins series on the web at

Sending the Wrong Message

Survival stories in movies and on television can be fine entertainment, but a number of the action sequences that frequently find their way into the stories are pure fiction.

In reality, they could put you in a world of hurt if you tried to replicate them. Here are six of them:

  • CPR instantly brings people back to life. All a victim needs is a few breaths in their mouth and a couple of pumps to the chest and they are instantly back in the fight again. The reality of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is that it is an emergency procedure performed to manually supply blood and oxygen to hold brain damage for as long as it takes medial professionals to arrive. CPR doesn’t restart a heart, but gives the victim a chance at recovery. Performed incorrectly, CPR can inflict great damage. Take a class at your local fire department, health department or other professional setting and get certified.
  • Getting knocked out is no biggie. One movie punch is all it takes to knock out someone, and they will wake up in a minute none the worse for wear. In truth, it usually takes multiple blows to cause a knockout. All blows to the head are serious. Concussion recovery can take many days, and multiple concussions can lead to permanent brain damage. On the other end of the spectrum, incorrectly throwing a punch to someone’s skull is a great way to seriously injure a hand.
  • Venom can be sucked from a snake bite. This staple scene from Westerns seems plausible, but is not. Venom doesn’t linger in the bite wound long enough to be removed in such a manner. Besides, if it is toxic in a wound, it will damage mouth tissue. The key in helping a bite victim is to keep them as still as possible to slow the toxin’s movement throughout the body and get them to an emergency room as soon as possible.
  • Anyone can instantly be a great shot. How often does a movie hero pick up a random weapon and, usually while running, fire off the perfect shot at a moving target? It takes training and lots of practice to get even moderately accurate at sighting and firing a weapon. If you are interested in developing marksmanship and target shooting as an activity, take a class. Learn how to correctly handle a weapon and then practice, practice, practice.
  • Survive a great fall with a soft landing spot. No action yarn worth a darn is complete without the hero jumping from a great height to a pinpoint perfect landing on a soft fluffy pile of garbage, from which he springs up and runs away unscathed. The laws of physics hold that a 30-foot fall ends with an impact of about 1,500 pounds of force. Very few surfaces will protect you from breaking multiple bones, if you even survive. In the real world, surviving that fall is followed by serious injury and a lengthy hospital stay.
  • Breaking through glass doesn’t hurt. Movie heroes escape by flinging themselves through plate glass windows, rolling onto the sidewalk outside and dashing away without a scratch. Please. Have you ever cut yourself cleaning up after a broken drinking glass? Multiply that by a thousand all over your body. You’ll need more bandaging than a mummy.

The lesson here is to enjoy disaster films in the theater and on your television screen, but don’t put too much stock into the way the heroes deal with the obstacles they face.

On the other hand, if you have children or grandchildren who could use some preparedness education and training, there are some great resources out there to help you teach them.


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