Rated S for Survival: ID4 – Independence Day

4 July, 2011
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So it’s July 4th here in the U.S., which is the day we celebrate our country’s independence from England with a lot of wonderfully self-destructive behavior. What better movie to review-from-the-standpoint-of-survival than 1996’s effects blockbuster Independence Day.  Spoilers Ahead!

Unfortunately, ID4 doesn’t have a lot of great scenes for our purposes. There are a few and a few lessons I think we can learn here.

The Initial Evacuation

So, the aliens have just blown up the “welcome wagon” and the President has just issued orders for all cities under one of the giant space ships to immediately evacuate. Everyone rushes out into the highways causing crippling traffic jams and complete chaos furthering the destructive impact of the alien attack. Cities are leveled, millions killed, dogs dodge explosions, blah, blah. So what mistakes were made? What could we do better?

Well, normally I agree that when the authorities say to leave, you should probably leave. That said, use your brains. If you can see that the highways are already gridlocked, don’t bother unless you have a sure-fire alternative plan. They might as well have just bunkered down in their homes/offices. Better to be in a basement than a car on the street. That said, though the scene is stupid, the use of the tunnel stairwell as a shelter point was inspired. Heavy metal doors, concrete walls, deep in the ground. Not great, but a lot better than the alternative.

Post-Blast cityscape (or “what to do in L.A. when everyone’s dead”)

Later in the film we see Vivica Fox’s character, with child in tow, roaming the blasted city. She’s shown “acquiring” a heavy truck and subsequently gathering a handful of demographically appealing survivors including the president’s wife. Comments? Thoughts?

I like that she’s shown gathering and helping other survivors. Obviously, in the movie it’s a plot-device to reinforce that she’s a good person, but it’s still an example worth remembering. In the event of a real city-sized emergency you should absolutely attempt to emulate this behavior whenever you can. There is strength in numbers and while having more people in your party puts resources (food, water, etc) under stress having the extra hands and brains will be invaluable. Additionally, the psychological benefits of being around others can’t be understated. In the TV show “Survivor Man”, Les Stroud (uber-survivalist) is left alone in the wild for seven days. He has repeated talked about the emotional drain of that kind of isolation.

What about the truck? Depending on the circumstances this is somewhere between a “great idea” and an “okay idea”. A lot just depends on whether there’s any real space to use a vehicle. The groundscape could just as easily been too cluttered with wreckage to make a heavy truck worth while. That said, even a stationary vehicle has value, especially one that still works. A functional heater or air conditioning can be helpful in harsh climates. The ability to generate power and light at night can be a real edge. The cabin of a vehicle is also an instant shelter, albeit not a great one.

The other thing, vehicle/movement-related Vivica did right: Don’t just roam a disaster area. You’re just going to get yourself hurt or in more trouble than you’re already in. If you need to move, have a destination in mind. It’s okay to stop along the way for survivors, supplies, etc, but don’t just roam the wasteland. In the movie, Vivica was making her way to boyfriend-Will Smith’s marine corp base which is actually a pretty good idea.

 

Finding Lost Loved Ones

Will Smith’s character has stolen a helicopter and gone off to search for his lost girlfriend. Most disaster movies of this kind have this kind of scene. Indeed, the majority of the last movie’s premise (Cloverfield) was based on this idea: my loved one is lost in the danger area and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get to them.

While this is a noble idea, it’s a horrible idea. All you do is increase the odds that you’ll get trapped, injured, etc. All you’ll end up doing is distracting emergency surfaces from other, more immediate problems. Consider this: How hard is it to find your lost party-mate in a crowded mall or amusement park? Now increase the area of the ‘park’ to encompass the whole city and destroy all infrastructure. Right.

The better advice is to pre-arrange with loved ones two or three potential rally points – places you’ll go to in the event of an emergency. Circumstances may prevent you from getting to any of those places, but it will increase your odds of reconnecting. Even if you can’t get there immediately, you’ll have the basis for finding your loved ones later.

 

Anyway, just a quick post for this evening. If you’re in the U.S., happy Independence Day (and a slightly belated Happy Canada Day to my friends from the north)!

 

 

 

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