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Writing a Christmas Calamity

Updated: Jan 18

By Erik Day

Building an incident

One of the great Christmas movies is the original Die Hard. With Bruce Willis as New York cop John McClane, our protagonist takes his holiday vacation to visit family on the Left Coast. Things get complicated as terrorist mastermind/exceptional thief Hans Gruber plays Grinch to the Nakatomi corporation.

Step outside the screenplay format for a second and consider that this now-timeless flick was based on Roderick Thorp's 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever. Thank you, wikipedia, as we use that cross-genre infobit to jump into adapting a crisis into a seasonal exercise scene.

By adding a little texture to the context, a holiday perhaps, we give the narrative places to go and things to do that audiences will connect to, infusing their own experiences into the story. For this late-2018 exercise, we'll use some portion of the winter equinox holiday season (pick your favorite flavor), and combine it with an incident into which your protagonist is involved.

Following is a list of 25 questions that Emergency Managers use when assessing the situation and planning the next step in the response.

5 minutes: Pick the ones that pop out at you and build an incident.

The first half has example answers.

  • What happened? (explosion, earthquake, fire)

  • When did it happen? (last night, this morning, moments ago, what incide…)

  • Where did it happen? (at the airport, 2 miles south of town, the mall)

  • What was the cause? (plate tectonics, Hans Gruber, faulty wiring)

  • What population is affected? (the villagers, the Village People, the kids at the school)

  • How are they affected? (No power, the building collapsed, lost their groove)

  • How long will they be affected? (30 minutes, the rest of their lives)

  • How many fatalities? 0, 1, 5, 15, 500

  • How many injured? 1, 5, 6000

  • How many missing? 1, 2, 90

  • What is the extent of the damage? Estimated $25M, Unknown until a sat fly-over...

  • What is the current impact on [the protagonist's world]?

  • How did we learn of this incident? Felt it, heard it, smelled it, saw it on the tube.

  • When did we respond?

  • Who is in field command?

  • What has been done so far?

  • What is the status of field response?

  • What is the short-term situation?

  • What is the long-term situation?

  • Has mutual aid been requested?

  • What are the emergency PIO requirements?

  • What is the short-term plan?

  • What is the long-term plan?

  • What executive actions or decisions are needed?

  • What is our briefing schedule?

Now that you have an incident, pick a character

How is that character involved in the incident? In the middle of it? Rescuing people? Survivor? Stumbled into it?

Two challenges:

  • Give it a flavor that makes it obvious it's happening during some sort of holiday or well-known celebration.

  • Make it as dark as real life can get (you know: darker than comfortable), then give us a little hope to close it out.

You've got 20 minutes to play with our hearts and minds.


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