When I got an email from a friend earlier today, I had high hopes. The message, forwarded multiple times by people I’d never heard of, warned of a potentially frightening emergency alert scheduled for 2:00 p.m. This was the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System involving bout twelve different federal agencies and would appear on all media outlets and was historically significant blah blah blah. What was important to me was the warning that “[t]he test message on TV might not indicate that it is just a test. Fear is that the lack of an explanation regarding the message might create panic.”
A good citizen would have passed this warning message along to her email contacts as others had done for me.
I did not.
Instead I considered starting online rumors of an impending major disaster so that when the emergency alert kicked on, we’d have a full scale mass panic on our hands like that caused by the infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast.
For those not familiar with that legendary bit of mania, the panic was touched off by a 1938 radio broadcast dramatizing H.G. Wells’s novel War of the Worlds. When radio listeners heard accounts of alien attacks, some apparently thought they were hearing actual news broadcasts of a real alien invasion. Mass panic ensued.
It sounded like a lot of fun and I thought it would be cool if we could recreate that mass hysteria over nothing. But I had trouble deciding what threat would be most likely to send people into a panic these days.
An alien invasion wouldn’t do it. Half the population doesn’t believe in UFOs and the other half would probably welcome the invaders with open arms.
In this year of unexpected earthquakes and devastating tornadoes, a natural disaster might instill the requisite panic, but it would be difficult to sustain on a national scale. It’s a big nation.
So what would set off a big national panic today? As I noted in my earlier blog about facing your fears, an invasion of giant or even moderately large spiders would do it for me. But I’m not everyone.
What do most people consider the greatest threat to security? Military invasion? A deadly virus? The impact of a giant asteroid hitting the planet? Another Kardashian wedding?
When the opportunity comes again, I want to be ready to set off a national panic and to do that, I need your help. What threat do you think would send the greatest number of people into a panic?
Yes, I’m being a bit silly, but I am genuinely curious. I think most Americans have not faced any real dangers in their lives (as opposed to people in other countries where suicide bombings and warlords with personal armies are commonplace) and I think it wouldn’t take much to make us panic. What do you think?
And by the way, I did happen to have the radio on when the historically significant alert was broadcast. I could barely hear it. When I turned up the volume, the message sounded exactly the same as every other “test of the blah blah blah system.” Very anticlimactic. The only fright came when the regular broadcast resumed at a volume level loud enough to split my eardrums.
As I said, War of the Worlds it was not.
I’d say mass hysteria would be caused by any of the following:
1. we ran out of gasoline
2. we ran out of air conditioning
3. we ran out of meat and donuts
4. you are no longer allowed to own a congressperson (mass hysteria among the megacorporations who will quickly crash the stockmarket which will cause mass hysteria among the news reporters. The general public will only yawn about this one. A few people will run out into the streets to celebrate. I will be among them)
It would only be safe to run out in the streets and celebrate if the first thing on your list has already happened…and number three would cause mass hysteria in my house (the three dogs and two carnivorous teens would miss meat and JIm and I need donuts to survive, at least once in a while. Otherwise we’re forced to eat Snickers for breakfast)
Seriously though, I do think number one would cause major panic. Good ideas!
LOL about another Kardashian wedding, Kate. I think the virus scenerio would make me panic over everything else. We’d have to hide from each other, and protecting family from germs that others carried would make us suspicious of everyone around us. Supplies would become scarce. Creepy to think about it. Thanks for making us deep thinkers today. 🙂
Well I wasn’t really trying to be deep, but hey, it’s good to be able to prey on people’s fears, right?
Wow! I do love the Kardashian wedding thing! With the tabloids lately–everyone is in an uproar. I on the other hand could give a rats tush!
You do have a thought provoking situation. Me as a writer I would say a run on the supply of CHOCOLATE. Can you imagine that? Women PMSing would be in hysteria, mass chaos would insue, WWIII would break out and no one would be safe!
On the other hand, my hips, tummy, thighs and butt would be better off.
On a more serious note, I think mass earthquakes would be a greater threat. We heard of Japan’s disaster and how it effected the whole country and world. We are a dominant power and if the earthquakes that are happening to us (on every coast now) were to intensify in mere weeks from each other setting off a domino effect of power outages, gas lines breaking, buildings crumbling . . . you get the picture. It would be a major issue hurting everything to some extent.
The other thing is one I’ve begin to wonder about. A world wide computer crash. How much do we rely on computers for EVERYTHING? Can you believe if a Y2K would actually happen? Computers all over the world just stopped and no one could fix them? The implications would be catastrophic! Only the older generations might be able to survive.
Thanks for the brain input today… you really got me thinking. (Dangerous for us writers at times and especially if we work on the belief of ‘what if?’.)
Mass hysteria? That I won Playboy Bunny of the Year maybe? I think what would really do it for me is to alert us that we’ve been attacked by a foreign country. I don’t think anything else would have that much of a dramatic impact on me besides having to pose as a Playboy bunny of course. ;o)
How about: we’ve been attacked by a foreign country and you have to lead to counterassault dressed as a Playboy Bunny?
Two things send chills down my spine, events which I believe will happen someday:
• Lack of access to water, or a crippling amount of contamination to it
• Global energy outage
The latter is frighteningly easy to come by—a solar storm of sufficient size, releasing massive amounts of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, would (and has in the past) cause a total blackout. Think of everything in your life that is dependent upon electricity in some form and you can see how quickly humanity will devolve.
The hitch here is people would need to pay heed to such warnings of a storm before it hit. We would have only a matter of hours to ‘prepare’. Anyone not paying attention gets to immerse themselves in additional panic from sheer lack of knowledge. Once the storm hits there will be no way to communicate short of riders on horseback and low tech pen and paper.
The former, while perhaps not quite as likely as a global blackout, is entirely feasible. Look at how common droughts are this decade alone. Part of some larger meteorological cycle? In some small way, maybe. But carry the scenario to its absurd extreme . . . get the picture?
Oxygen is fairly plentiful, so we should all be able to breathe; water, however, can be in short supply. Mankind has fought bloody wars over ideas, over metals, over religion—wouldn’t take long for large scale killing over access to water.
Sleep well ;^)
The water thing didn’t even cross my mind. That would be horrific.
Well, considering we just got to experience a week without electricity that led to sewer water backing up into my basement, I’m guessing if somehow terrorists figured out how to attack all our energy plants we would be way past mass hysteria.
Our area has been hit by 3 major storms in the past 5 months, resulting in a loss of electricity for multiple days each time. It’s amazing how much you miss it when you can’t run water or flush a toilet for fear of flooding your basement. Oh, tossing out hundreds of dollars of food isn’t fun either.
There’s actually a company called Daily Bread that sells freeze dried foods. I’m thinking of stocking up lately. A tornado, a microburst, and a freak snowstorm all in five months–I’m guessing someone really ticked off Mother Nature or God is sending us a sign. Either way, I think we should pay attention. Who knows what’s coming next?
Just don’t store the freeze-dried food in your basement…
Wow!! I liked your plan to incite mass hysteria!! I completely missed this. I heard it was coming but wasn’t witness to the excitement that was the first national test of the emergency broadcast system. How will I ever carry on!