Digesting Disasters

I can’t recall whether it started with learning about Titanic or reading a children’s book about Pompeii, but since a young age I had been very interested in disasters. Well, not just what happened and how it took so many lives, but what exactly transpired in the build-up and final cause of the disaster. And of course, how the incident affected the lives of those involved, and what measures have been taken by the relevant authorities to ensure that such a thing never happens again.

So imagine my (horror and) delight when one day I came home from school to find a new documentary showing on television, Seconds From Disaster. Horror, because it was an episode about something that happened in my own little insignificant country. Delight, because before that day, my only references about such distasteful events were the (thankfully) infrequent news reports and whatever books I could find in the Children’s Library I’d frequented at the ground floor of my apartment block every day.

Seconds From Disaster, for those of you who may not be into documentaries or disasters, is a highly informative show that uses witness interviews, official findings and reports, professional opinions and any available evidence to recreate the entire scenario of a given disaster event right from the very beginning, pointing out underlying as well as direct causes that led to the incident, and revealing the aftermath effects and follow-ups on the persons and places involved, and ultimately, the parties responsible for the incident. The types of incidents reviewed include anything and everything from natural disasters to human error and structural/mechanical/technical/electrical failures. Seconds From Disaster is a production of National Geographic channel and has currently just ended its sixth season.

Hotel New World Collapse

A photo taken during the rescue efforts of the Hotel New World collapse in Singapore. It is one of the incidents featured in Seconds From Disaster. Photo courtesy of Singapore Civil Defence Force.

Speaking of National Geographic productions, another very similar documentary series they produce is Air Crash Investigation, also known as Mayday in certain countries. It’s format and concept is exactly the same as Seconds From Disaster, with the exception that all its disasters involve aircrafts, and not all the incidents they review have fatalities. In a way, Air Crash Investigation gives viewers hope for a happy (or at least neutral) ending once in a while. It goes without saying that Air Crash Investigation ranks just as high on my must-watch list as Seconds From Disaster is.

I have an insatiable hunger for knowledge, and documentaries like these that delve deep into the causes and consequences of very real situations teaches me not only of the various possibilities and scenarios that can plant the seeds of a catastrophe, but also quite a few structural/mechanical/technical/electrical/geographical terms. (In fact, I’ve learnt enough terms and technicalities to get myself very interested in aircrafts and aeronautics. Maybe I can write a post about that another time!)

Anyway, more than anything, watching these documentaries make me realise just how much our complacent human nature leaves critical details to become fatal oversight. Makes me appreciate how important it is not to leave safety and lives to chance. All those reenactments, recounts and reports are there for us to learn from past mistakes and make an effort not to let the incidents repeat themselves. It has admittedly made me more wary of my surroundings; the first thing I do when entering a building or room for the first time is to note the location of the emergency exits and fire extinguishers. I’ve also taken up a basic first aid course and volunteered with the neighbourhood’s Community Emergency Response Team because I hope to be of assistance if anything should happen. It all stems from the awareness that disaster documentaries have raised in me. Lives can be lost only too easily.

I like disaster documentaries not because I gain happiness from learning the ways that people can die; it is quite the opposite.


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