Monday, October 25, 2010

Real Life and Fiction Meet

This week a suspected Anti-immigrant group sent Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona a suspicious toxic white powder closing his office and reminding us of the Amerithrax attack on September 18, 2001 which is sent by letters to several news media offices and two Democratic U. S. Senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others.

It is always amazing to me as a writer how real life truly does mimic fiction – not always in the best of all possible ways. Years ago when I was President of the National Emergency Care Advisory Council – I worked very hard to get television to correctly represent first aid in programming. The reason I did that was because people were emulating television (which claimed to be emulating people) and doing real harm to injured people. Of course if television was having their professional first aid squads emulate the mistakes of the general population that didn’t make sense but it did keep them from being responsible in their programming. Not much has changed by the way.

In my new novel “Tranquillity Initiative” I wrote about what would happen if the second bomb that the terrorists were planning to deploy was successfully dropped from a sky scraper. Among the things that would happen would be that there would be a collapse of the police, fire, emergency medical services, public health, and garbage collection services with horrendous results. Another result would be that New Yorkers would flee to the countryside which would arm itself against the refugees. We saw that happen in the Algiers Parish of New Orleans as people tried to get to dry land and safety.

In the early 1800s, New York City essentially burned to the ground. There were a number of reasons why that happened. One of them was that the previous summer there had been a terrible outbreak of cholera and the fire department had been decimated to the point where it didn’t have the staff to put out the fire. If an anthrax weapon were to be deployed over New York, the various departments would see their staffs massively cut by debilitating disease and if, for example, there were riots major parts of the city might simply burn. Today we can pull from neighboring states and counties, however, a lot of damage could take place before New Jersey, Connecticut and Westchester could get across the bridges and through the tunnels (providing they aren’t jammed by traffic trying to escape) – parts of Long Island would be taken out by the germ warfare so Queens would probably be decimated as well.

It is fascinating to sit and read history and to apply the lessons of past disasters to the possibilities of present time. The major lessons are that not much changes when a writer applies human nature to catastrophe.

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