4 Things Disaster Movies Get Really Wrong

Never get your safety advice from the big screen.

We love a good action-packed Hollywood flick as much as anyone, especially if “The Rock” is involved. Because let’s be honest; he could probably save us all from any natural disaster with his left bicep.

That being said, as we’re here to help you and your family on your readiness journey, we have to point out when filmmakers take certain creative liberties to keep you wonderfully entertained, yet quite often misinformed. At the end of the day, our lives are not movies. So make sure you learn from real experts and not characters on the big screen. Sticking to the harbor app for step-by-step, day-by-day disaster preparedness will certainly help you with that!

Just in case, here are a few things to keep in mind before you pop your movie popcorn. 

1. During a major earthquake, car-engulfing crevices do NOT open up.

Take the movie San Andreas, for example. The San Andreas fault line in California is indeed a beast at over 800 miles long, and if you’ve felt an earthquake originating in California it’s most likely the San Andreas’ fault - get it? 

Just keep in mind that the way these things work is that the fault line would simply rub together, causing a major shaker, but it would not literally open up. There might be some small cracks, but your home or a whole gas station is definitely not at risk of falling into the earth during an earthquake. 

In addition, if a major earthquake happens on the San Andreas fault line, the West Coast is not at risk for a tsunami either, and especially not one with a wave bigger than the Golden Gate Bridge. If a major earthquake happened in the Pacific Ocean, however, California and its West Coast neighbors would definitely be at risk.


When the earth rumbles below you, one of the best things you can do is to DROP, COVER, & HOLD ON, no matter where you are. Aftershocks do happen, and they’re very dangerous. Also, make sure to prepare your home as best you can now with earthquake latches, bolts, and braces. 

2. During any category of tornado, NEVER take cover under a bridge.

Have you ever seen that classic gem of a movie Twister

For the youngins out there, it came out 22 years ago, and it’s still awesome. While the moviemakers apparently consulted with meteorologists on many things, there are some things you just don’t do if you want to stay safe.

If you hide under a bridge (even in your car) during a tornado, you’re at greater risk of flying debris, or even worse - the whole bridge collapsing on you. What’s more, congregating under a bridge can lead to a bottle-neck in traffic and block emergency responders from getting to where they need to go.  And yes, tornadoes are indeed powerful enough to pick you up and take you away - farm animals too! 


If you find yourself being chased by a tornado, get to a sturdy building with a storm cellar, basement, or safe room as fast as you can. Stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls. Use your arms to protect your head and neck from flying debris. 

3. During a volcanic eruption, it’s NOT okay to breathe in toxic ash.

In volcano disaster movies like Volcano and Dante’s Peak, the main characters are often seen breathing in thick poisonous ash in the air, and they don’t seem to care!

In movies like this, the top concern is usually about driving away - or through - approaching  hot magma, because that’s just more visually interesting perhaps. But don’t do that either. If you drive through magma, your car is toast. 

To be very clear, volcanic ash isn’t like breathing in smoke around a fire; it’s far worse. As National Geographic points out,

“Its particles are very hard and usually have jagged edges. As a result, it can cause eye, nose, and lung irritation, as well as breathing problems.” In fact, it also contains poisonous gases like fluorine and carbon dioxide, which can irritate both the skin and the lungs - even leading to suffocation.”


If you find yourself in the vicinity of an erupting volcano, don’t panic. First and foremost, listen for emergency alerts and updates on your phone or on an NOAA radio. Make sure to follow evacuation orders, and avoid traveling in any area downwind of the volcano, as the ash could follow you. Stay indoors, and make sure your family members have N-95 masks. 

4. During a category 5 hurricane, do NOT attempt to go for a joy ride.

In many ways the somewhat recent movie Crawl is pretty unintentionally hilarious, especially if you hail from Florida. There are many un-Florida things about the film, including the fact that there’s a basement (unheard of), a house made of wood (hello termites and mold), and giant alligators that somehow don’t have the power to chop your limbs off (they totally would). 

One of the biggest No-Nos of the film, though, is that the main character drives right in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane, which means winds would have been 156 miles per hour or greater. Winds that strong would have literally blown her car right off the road. No windshield-wiper in the world would have protected her from the dangerous projectile debris flying through the air. 


If you’re ever ordered to evacuate for a hurricane, please do so! Make sure you’re away from a floodplain, and always stay indoors, regardless of what mother nature might be doing to your home. Oftentimes in hurricanes power is lost and communications go down for hours - sometimes days or even weeks. 

Get ready now by assembling a Go Bag for every family member, and stock up on supplies like enough food and water for a month, a generator, and an NOAA radio. 

No matter what: don’t worry, be ready, and may The Rock be with you.