The Ghostbusters saved New York City from the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. But skyscrapers were covered with sticky fluff in the process, a mess that was left completely unaddressed in the script.
And Lex Luthor, when he created an earthquake along the San Andreas Fault, certainly ripped up roads and power lines and sewer systems.
While it made good for movies, after the closing credits rolled there was still a disaster to clean up. Like a lot of things tied to public administration, what happened next in Gotham and Metropolis would depend on willpower, support, money and political capital.
It’s a practical problem that’s not as thrilling as saving the world, but it could also be a pivotal moment that causes a city’s rebirth and strengthens its resolve.
“You think it’s all not real, right? And that it’s never going to happen,” San Diego Councilman David Alvarez said. “But I think that the takeaway is that things won’t happen this way, but communities in the past have faced challenges with their infrastructure, or natural disasters, and even war.
“You have to rebuild, and how do you do that?”
Alvarez and other officials and politicians will sit on a panel on Saturday at Comic-Con where they’ll discuss how they’d respond and clean up after a destructive battle between two superheroes, filling a wonky plot hole left in many action movies.
If the battles between heroes and villains were real, it would be a bizarre and novel type of emergency. But cities already have some relevant experience in disasters, public health threats, and massive public events that could be transferable to handling whatever Stan Lee could imagine.
“We do catastrophic planning, but none of those have involved a battle of superheroes,” said Holly Crawford, director of the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services.
“But we go through a lot of real events, like Zika and Ebola, and planned events like the Trump rally, and the (Major League Baseball) All-Star Game, that we prepare for and challenge us.”
There have been detailed contingency plans for massive wildfires, meltdowns at the San Onofre nuclear power plant and earthquakes that could be adapted to respond to a villain’s evil plans to take over the world.
Fire departments are constantly responding to medical calls, car crashes, hazardous material spills, and fires. Police departments have bomb squads to handle any explosives that might be sitting around, and to help control the public chaos that would likely ensue.
And when the danger is over, urban planners will, like they’re doing already, review permits to rebuild structures, civil engineers will design upgrades and repairs to sewer lines, water treatment plants and the other necessities of a civilized society.
“Obviously the first thing is the public safety issue,” said Oceanside Councilwoman Esther Sanchez, who is also on the panel.
People who are injured or sick will need to be treated before anything else, she said.
After the battle is over there would be a massive crime scene too large to cordon off with yellow police tape. But after investigators do their part, it’s time for the public works crews and their excavation equipment, the civil engineers with their computer models, and the accountants and their spreadsheets.
“I think if you did have a superhero battle in the middle of our county, you’d likely have buildings that are damaged like in an earthquake,” Crawford said. “You’d need to have people to inspect those buildings to make sure that the structural integrity was maintained. You’d have to have debris removal. You’d have to have structures set up for people to get out of the way of the battling superheroes. You’d have to have donations management because people in California and others states would want to assist us.”
These workers are going to earn a lot of overtime. In 2012, the Hollywood Reporter spoke with disaster-expense modeling firm Kinetic Analysis Corp. and found that all the destruction shown in “The Avengers” movie would cost about $160 billion in combined physical damage and lost economic activity. The 9/11 terrorist attack cost about $83 billion, and Hurricane Katrina cost $90 billion, and the 2011 tsunami in Japan totaled about $112 billion.
The bulk of the bill would likely not be paid locally.
“You have the federal government and hopefully they’re responsive and get past any partisanship,” said California Treasurer John Chiang, another panelist. “Then you’ll have the state and local governments making their own contributions. And you have the Red Cross and other philanthropic organizations.”
Legislators would need to decide if they should create a new tax or fees or borrow money. It’s a slow process, but could be necessary, Chiang said.
On the plus side, there would be a spike in cleanup and construction work, Sanchez said.
And cities could rebuild from a bare canvas.
“In the event that the Incredible Hulk were to go and destroy a city and you had to rebuild it, it would be an amazing opportunity to build the transit lines and the infrastructure and the buildings as you want it,” said former San Diego Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, now a candidate for county supervisor.
New infrastructure and upgrades are generally designed around existing facilities, sometimes at the cost of functionality. But if everything needed to be built all at once, that limit no longer exists.
“If you can start from scratch, you could bring in the most modern, high-speed systems,” Fletcher said.
Long-term projects that are already planned might be expedited since there is a clearer need. It could be prime time to create another desalination plant to provide the region with a stable supply of water, or to overhaul the rail and highway networks to alleviate beach traffic, or add a pedestrian walkway underneath the Coronado Bridge. The region could be modernized in a series of months, maybe years, rather than decades.
It’s happened before; it took 74 days to rebuild two sections of the Santa Monica Freeway, and less than three months to fix bridges on Interstate 5 after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.
It would also change the sense of community, and disasters tend to bind people together.
“That’s obviously where the true character and value of folks come out,” Alvarez said. “San Diego has proven to do that with wildfires, and the rest of our country has done that in the past. We find ways to rebuild and find ways to put us back on the map and on our way back to success and prosperity.”
It’s not a new concept, Fletcher said. In Britain, immediately after the German bombings in World War II, people felt like they were dependent on their neighbors and needed to trust each other. It caused a decline in some mental health issues.
“You have this incredible sense of community where people really band together,” Fletcher said.”You really see the best of a community come out in these disasters.”
If a city has to clean up millions of tons of melted marshmallow, or patch itself together after a villain causes an earthquake, that type of cohesion might be necessary.
Article as Seen on SD Union Tribune