A Disasterologist's Perspective on San Andreas

*This post only contains spoilers if you've never seen a disaster movie before.* 

At this point it seems that every seismologist in the United States has been interviewed about the new blockbuster, San Andreas. (See for example: Buzzfeed, NPR,  The Hollywood Reporter, Gizmodo, Time,  Huffington Post, New York Post, and that's not even the full first page of a google search.) Alissa Walker starts her article on Gizmodo by saying, "Let's ask SCIENCE". 

*quietly raises hand* 
Um, hi internet. I do science-y things too. 

I love seismologists. They're pretty great. It's totally appropriate, and actually quite responsible, of the media to consult seismologists about the accuracy of earthquake movies. HOWEVER while it's good to know the extent to which the ground shaking in the particular way portrayed in this movie could happen in real life it's at least equally important to know how accurately this movie portrays what actually happens during an earthquake. 

The typical disaster myths could be seen throughout the movie. For example, people looting and panic behavior, things that research consistently tells us doesn't happen during disasters. But that's not interesting, that's already written about all the time.

For me the most ridiculous part of the movie was the perpetuation of and focus on the Role Abandonment Myth. I genuinely laughed at the idea that the Rock abandoned his role of search and rescue pilot in the middle of the biggest catastrophe in modern history. 

Good news y'all, research has demonstrated over and over that first responders DO NOT abandon their roles during disasters.

"In 1976 Dynes and Quarantelli studied over 100 disasters and interviewed more than 2,500 organizational officials and found that role conflict was not a serious problem that created a significant loss of manpower." (Kushma, 2007)

Outside of the entire plot depending on the Rock abandoning his role it does seem that everyone else (1st responders seen in passing throughout the film, the news reporter, the seismologists) all continue to work throughout the disaster. Unfortunately I don't think the average person would make that observation so overall I'd say this film does more to perpetuate the role abandonment myth than overturn it.

End conclusion: Don't worry, if you do find yourself trapped after an earthquake the Rock probably won't just fly on by. 

Not the worst disaster movie but also not anything original. I’ll just be over waiting for the sequel. Can I suggest, San Andreas: The Recovery? Now there's a story that hasn't been told yet.  

 

BONUS ACCURACY ANALYSIS 

It just so happens that my brother, Parker, is currently training to be a search and rescue helicopter pilot, the exact job the Rock has in the movie. We saw the movie together and I was quite interested to get his reaction (there was a lot of eye rolling).  

1. The first, "OMG" helicopter moment was when they successfully managed to rescue a woman trapped in her car in a crevasse. The Rock "tipped the hat" a move that both my brother and the internet agree is not a rescue maneuver that could be conducted without special effects.  

2. While performing the rescue of his estranged wife the Rock set the helicopter to automatically hover over. In that helicopter the response was, "Hahaha, Nope".  [My brother is  also very disturbed that the Rock was allowed to fly out completely by himself in the first place. Apparently that's a big no-no.] 

3. Parker and I were also both pretty confused about how at no point did anyone else from LAFD check in wondering where their helicopter and star rescuer were during the biggest search and rescue operation of LA's history. Perhaps we are to assume the LAFD was completely destroyed? Perhaps we are to assume that they assumed he was killed? Regardless I can't help but laugh at the thought of 1, 2, 3 years down the line when some higher-up realizes their helicopter was stolen and crashed into a shopping mall.

 

As somewhat of a side note: VOX seems to have a conspiracy theory that any movie that depicts a city facing any type of destruction is an attempt to recreate 9/11 NYC without explicitly stating that is what the creators are doing. I don't think there's any real evidence that this is what the creators of disaster movies are doing. A write up of San Andreas notes that the movie "flirts with the idea of telling a 9/11 story" as evidenced by "cellphone service being rendered useless in the wake of disaster", "the bravery of first responders", and "scene of a CGI'd American slowly flag unfurling to be hit by rays of golden sunshine"... "which all resonates with that painful day." These movies aren't referencing 9/11, they're referencing every disaster that happens. Cell service routinely goes out after disasters, first responders always show bravery during disaster, and American flags have been present at the scene of every US disaster that has ever occurred. Also, I think that people like superhero/ disaster movies because things go *boom*.