In watching all of these films, however, I've discovered that there are quite a few repeated themes that indicate the incompetency of authority in a time of crisis. This acknowledgment led me to create a list of the five things that governments today can learn from bio-disaster films to survive a serious infection. Here are those five things:
Don't treat people like filth, especially when they're infected.
Almost every bio-disaster film I have seen has made this point painfully clear:
if you want to maintain control and keep the infection from spreading at an astronomic rate, you have to treat every single person with care and respect. Why? Because the second you give people a reason to run away from authority figures, you've lost. Take the film Right at Your Door as a prime example of this. When the government realizes that the attack in downtown LA contains some sort of biological agent, the first thing they do is start rounding up people at gunpoint. Nobody knows what is going to happen to the people being shoved into black vans--maybe they're getting medical care?--but it doesn't really matter. The damage is done. The fact of the matter is that the government does not have enough manpower to control a serious infection with force. They need the people to be willing to cooperate with officials so that the infection can be controlled. If you can't control the infection, then you can't survive. Plain and simple.
Don't lie or keep valuable information from the public.
Most people are not stupid. They can usually tell if you're lying or keeping something from them. Worse yet, they already know that something is going on, and that it's not good news. The best thing the government can do is provide some truth and useful information to the public. Tell them what is going on and explain to them what they should do. If you're already treating them with a certain level of respect, then they're very likely to follow instructions and use what little information you can give them to make sure they can survive. But if you lie to them or intentionally keep silent about things that they're demanding to know, they'll panic.1
This particularly point is one we should already have learned from recent non-bio disasters, such as the New Orleans/Hurricane Katrian fiasco. But bio-disaster films have been making the case for quick response times for decades. If there is a biological threat, whether in the form of a zombie-style virus, a bio-weapon, or a mutated bacteria, then reacting quickly is the best and only way to go about things. The longer it takes for you to control the spread of the infection, the better chance the infection has of moving into the general populace. You have to keep the infection contained to one area, and do so as fast as possible. Infections spread like wildfire, and firefighters know how bad those can get.
Provide food and medical supplies.
There are two things that people care the most about during any sort of crisis: food and medical supplies. It should be pretty obvious why. We need to eat and drink, and some of us might be hurt, or infected. In the movies, both of these things are impossible to come by, either because the government refuses to hand them out, people steal them, or people are too afraid to leave their homes to acquire the supplies they need (maybe because the government shoots them if they are found wandering the countryside). This can be solved, if not entirely, then at least to a certain degree. Providing care packages to people, whether delivered door to door or dispensed at special locations across the city (the former is preferable), can go a long way towards making sure people survive, are less afraid, and are more cooperative. Starving people or people who need meds are not happy people, and people who are not happy are the kinds of people who tend to steal, become violent, and so on. All that is bad news for anyone trying to control an infection.
Have a well-developed, and practiced, contingency plan for a bio-disaster.
Reality #1: Biological weapons exist. Reality #2: Viruses and bacteria continue to evolve and super-strains do exist. Reality #3: Police and other public protection services need to be prepared to handle all of these. Officials should be trained in handling the infected or the potentially infected and in infection containment. Otherwise, it's quite likely that all four of the things that precede this point will occur. And we don't want that.
So, what things do you think the government should learn from bio-disaster films?
1. The irony of this particular point is that the reason for lying to the public or keeping silent about pertinent information is usually to keep people from panicking. Yet in doing so, they end up producing the panic they were trying to avoid.