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10 Films on Crisis and Disaster Preparedness

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A selection of ten current films dealing with various crises and disasters (accidents, earthquakes, health crises...) and how they can be dealt with.


[This text has been written by Raül Toran, Outreach manager at ISGlobal, and Elizabeth Diago, coordinator of ISGlobal's Preparedness Hub.]


1. Accident films

There are many films about traffic accidents, such as the Oscar-winning Crash (2008) or Trauma (2015), and about plane crashes, such as Cast Away (2000) or Society of the Snow (2023). We highlight Don't Look Up, in which two astronomers try to warn the media and politicians that a comet is going to collide with the Earth and could cause our extinction. Will we listen to them? A film that highlights the serious problem we face with infodemics and the politicisation of crisis responses, as we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is something that needs to be taken into account when developing preparedness and response plans.



Trailer: Director: Adam McKay. Genre: Comedy/Science Fiction. Year: 2021. Running time: 145 minutes. Where to watch: Netflix.


2. Earthquake films

One of the most recent is San Andreas, centred on the San Andreas fault, the tectonic boundary between the North American and Pacific plates. This fault affects the states of California, Oregon and Washington, where large earthquakes have occurred causing many deaths, injuries and major damage. As an area with a high probability of earthquakes, there are preparedness and response plans that include guidelines, warning systems and drills to train the population and emergency teams, including a recent one in which all the inhabitants of the state of California were called upon to participate.



Trailer: Director: Brad Peyton. Genre: Disasters/Action. Year: 2015. Running time: 114 minutes. Where to watch: Netflix; Max; Amazon Prime Video; YouTube; Google Play Películas and Apple TV.


3. Tsunami films

In areas where there is a risk of tsunamis (huge waves that can come inland from hurricanes, tsunamis and storms), preparedness plans can be created for both the population and the response teams. For example, Japan, following the 2011 Fukushima tsunami and subsequent nuclear accident, began to strengthen these preparedness plans, which include elements of public awareness, education in schools, drills and the celebration of Tsunami Preparedness Day on 5 November. Our film of choice for this disaster is The Impossible, directed by J. A. Bayona and starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland, among others. It is based on the true story of the tragic experience of Dr. María Belón and her family in Thailand during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The film stands out for its harshness and also for the story of resilience of its protagonists.



Trailer: Director: J. A. Bayona. Genre: Drama. Year: 2012. Running time: 107 minutes. Where to watch: Netflix, MITELE, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play Películas and Movistar Plus+.


4. Films about volcanoes

Volcanoes have starred in countless films: Volcano (1997), Dante's Peak (1997), SkyFire (2019) or The Volcano: Rescue from Whakaari (2022), among many others. Here we would like to highlight the documentary Fire of Love, which is the true story of the marriage between two volcanologists, Katia and Maurice Krafft. In addition to studying volcanoes all over the world, they filmed and photographed their research and the lava from the volcanoes throughout their careers. This film was nominated for Best Documentary at the 95th Academy Awards (2023) and the BAFTA Awards 2023. Preparedness for volcanic eruptions is essential to protect people living in areas with potential volcanic activity. In the Canary Islands there is the PEVOLCA plan, which aims to ensure a coordinated, agile, effective and efficient response from all public administrations to deal with seismovolcanic crises. The plan was activated during the recent eruption of the La Palma volcano. Being prepared for volcanic eruptions involves a series of elements, such as the monitoring of its activity, territorial, resource and emergency planning, as well as education and awareness-raising among the population. At the international level, the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network provides resources for both the scientific community and the public.



Trailer: Director: Sara Dosa. Genre: Documentary. Year: 2022. Running time: 93 minutes. Where to watch: Disney +, Filmin and JustWatch.


5. Nuclear disaster films

Disasters of this kind were dealt with mainly in the 1980s and 1990s, but recently they have also been addressed in very good quality products. For example, the miniseries Chernobyl, available on the HBO platform, delves into the April 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the then Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Similarly, Pandora is a Korean thriller about a nuclear incident caused by an earthquake at a small-town power plant. The story, centred on a worker at the plant and his family, is about how the workers deal with the aftermath of this accident that causes an explosion. The protagonist will try to apply solutions to stop the spread of radiation. Another interesting film is Fukushima, about the nuclear disaster following a tsunami in Fukushima Daiichi, Japan, in 2011. To learn more about preparedness plans for radiological accidents, you can access the recommendations of the SHAMISEN project. And for information on how to prepare for nuclear disasters resulting from war, there is this document.



Trailer: Director: Park Jeong-woo. Genre: Disasters/Action. Year: 2016. Running time: 136 minutes. Where to watch: Netflix.


6. Films on communicable diseases

The plot of several films is based on a contagion: 12 Monkeys (1995), Outbreak (1995) and I Am Legend (2007). We highlight Contagion for its great similarity to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film is about how an unknown virus from China spreads rapidly through the air, causing a pandemic and killing hundreds of thousands of people while an effective vaccine is developed in record time and mass vaccination plans are put into operation. Despite the existence of the International Health Regulations since 2005, created in response to the SARS epidemic of 2002-2004, which were intended to strengthen epidemic response capacities, it has become clear that new strategies are needed to strengthen preparedness. Work is therefore underway on a new Pandemic prevention, preparedness and response accord, which is expected to be published this year. On the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, ISGlobal produced this document.



Trailer: Director: Steven Soderbergh. Genre: Drama. Year: 2011. Running time: 106 minutes. Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play Películas, Apple TV and JustWatch.


7. Climate change films

In the field of climate change and preparedness films, there are several interesting titles. The Day After Tomorrow, which focuses on a story of survival, stands out. Climatologist Jack Hall and his team find that global warming could trigger a series of widespread extreme cold spells on Earth. The researcher warns the world's top leaders to take action to avert catastrophe, but his warning comes too late, and a race against time is on to save his son, who is visiting New York. Climate change is already happening and its effects are being felt. In addition, more frequent extreme weather effects are expected, according to the latest IPCC reports, and we must take into account that: they affect ecosystems and our health, their impact will be greater in low- and middle-income countries, and climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies will be needed. 



Trailer: Director: Roland Emmerich. Genre: Science Fiction. Year: 2004. Running time: 114 minutes. Where to watch: Disney+, YouTube, Google Play Películas, Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video.


8. Fire films

Many, many films have had fires as a central theme: Towering Inferno (1974), Notre-Dame on Fire (2022) or Only the Brave (2017). The one we have selected is Fire Will Come (O que arde). A Galician film that focuses on the large fires that occur every year in Galicia, and which also affect other parts of southern Europe, and the consequences they have for their inhabitants. Preparedness guides have already been developed for people living near forest areas. For example, in Catalonia there is the Emergency Plan for Forest Fires developed by the Department of the Interior and Civil Protection, which includes information for the population and elements of surveillance and warning, as well as prevention. The harmful effects of smoke from large fires can affect remote areas, as we saw last summer in Canada and the United States, where large quantities of CO2 and harmful particles were released, worsening air quality. There are recommendations to protect against them, especially for those most vulnerable to their harmful effects, such as monitoring air quality, staying indoors or wearing a mask. 



Trailer: Director: Oliver Laxe. Genre: Drama. Year: 2019. Running time: 89 minutes. Where to watch: RTVE, Movistar Plus+, YouTube, Google Play Películas, Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video.


9. Chemical disaster films

We have some very interesting titles about chemical and environmental disasters, such as Erin Brokovick (2000) or White Noise (2020), which deals with an industrial accident that causes a toxic cloud in a city in the Midwest of the United States. We highlight the film Dark Waters, which tells the shocking true story of a persistent lawyer who took on the chemical manufacturer DuPont after a town's water was contaminated by its products. This film won the award for best foreign film at the 46th French César Awards. Unfortunately, the frequency of chemical and occupational accidents and disasters has been increasing in recent years in Europe, the United States and other parts of the world. The risk of their occurrence is exacerbated by the increased use of chemicals, climate change (which increases the frequency of extreme weather events), urban sprawl and ageing industrial infrastructure. Lessons learned from past accidents need to be analysed to create recommendations for preparedness and response. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has developed principles for chemical accident prevention, preparedness and response.



Trailer: Director: Todd Haynes. Genre: Drama. Year: 2019. Running time: 126 minutes. Where to watch: Netflix, RTVE, Movistar Plus+, YouTube, Google Play Películas, Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video.


10. Antimicrobial resistance films

We close the selection of films by highlighting a recent documentary called Resistance Fighters, in which researchers, patients and political decision-makers look for possible solutions to this global health problem. Every year, more than 700,000 people die from superbugs, i.e. bacteria that have developed resistance to antibiotics. This mortality could multiply between now and 2050, resulting in more than 10 million deaths per year. Hence the importance of working to reduce the emergence of new antibiotic resistance and the prevalence of existing resistance, and to find models for the pharmaceutical development of new antibiotics. Strategies that are being strengthened in the field of epidemic preparedness and response can be used to combat antibiotic resistance. For example: improvements in governance and funding for national plans, strengthening surveillance systems, infection prevention and control and antimicrobial stewardship strategies, access to vaccines and diagnostic tests, and strengthening the One Health framework. This is why several organisations are pushing for antimicrobial resistance to be included in the new Pandemic Treaty. These include MSF, GARDP, US Health and Human Services and ReACT.



Trailer: Director: Michael Wech. Genre: Documental. Year: 2019. Running time: 100 minutes. Where to watch: Filmin, Amazon Prime Video and JustWatch.


More information

Images of the post: Filmaffinity.

To find out more about these and similar films:

For more on preparedness and response to systemic risks:The All-Hazards Preparedness Approach: How Can We Be Better Prepared for the Next Public Health Crisis?