Famine! Plague! Tsunami! The one thing Ireland won't do is . . .
Maguire notes the importance of antivirals and vaccines. He says we have a stockpile of the former and the time a disease takes to spread would give us time to order more as needed.
“The ultimate response and the speed at which drugs can be produced is ever improving,” he says. “Unfortunately a vaccine cannot be ordered in advance because you have to wait until the strain emerges . . . But technologies are emerging that will allow them to be produced far more rapidly. That could be a game changer, because you could get everybody vaccinated at the very start.”
Most importantly, Maguire says, people should “remain calm” in the event of a pandemic. So they shouldn’t head off to the hills with shotguns and canned goods? “No,” he says, firmly.
Big-screen natural disasters include Dante’s Peak (Pierce Brosnan fights a volcano) and 2012 (that’s this year!) in which a geological disaster rips up the face of the earth. Any tsunami that hit Ireland would cause a bit of coastal flooding, “probably no more extreme than the events in Ringsend a few years ago”, according to Koen Verbruggen, acting director of the Geological Survey.
“As a geologist I’d like to be living in a more active country in some ways, but the reality is that it’s fairly quiet here,” he says, a little wistfully. “An earthquake off Portugal or a landslide off the Canaries could generate a wave, but nothing like the Fukushima event. Geologically we’re in a very quiet part of the world.”
Nonetheless, in June, tremors from a minor earthquake were felt off the coast of Mayo, and tsunamis are not unheard of in these parts. “In 1755, an earthquake destroyed Lisbon, and there are anecdotal and historical records that that caused damage in southern Ireland, in places like Bandon – washed-out bridges, that sort of thing. We’ve done modelling on what would happen if we got an exact repeat of that incident, and the maximum possible impact is a 4m high wave on the southern Irish coast.”
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared. The Office of Public Works recently mapped areas in danger of flooding throughout the island and we’re well served with inland earthquake monitors and seabound tide gauges. The Geological Survey also represents Ireland on a Unesco group called the North East Atlantic and Mediterranean Standard Warning System, part of an international alert system much improved since 2004’s Indonesian tsunami.
Indeed, if some tsunami-related flooding were on the way, “we’d even have a little bit of time to prepare for it”, says Verbruggen.
It’s happened before (800 years, etc). But according to the Department of Defence any plan it might have in the event of an invasion is classified.
In dystopian melodramas such as City of Men and Soylent Green, food shortages lead to riots and corporate-sponsored cannibalism. “Ireland produces nine times more food than it needs,” says Paul Dillon, head of corporate
affairs at the Department of Agriculture, nipping those notions in the bud. “We’ll never be short of meat or milk because we produce large volumes of those. We could conceivably have shortages of certain things but not a critical shortage.”
He then explains how emergency planning ensures food gets distributed during severe weather, before adding: “The main principle behind the common market was to make sure there’d never be food shortages again, and that philosophy has pertained for the past 40 years or so.” That’s comforting.
Irish food emergencies are more likely to revolve around sporadic outbreaks of animal diseases, such as foot-and-mouth, something the State has quite a good record of dealing with. “We have our plans for animal-disease emergencies like foot-and-mouth and swine flu and bird flu . . . We have our systems for early warning, detection, follow-up and control,” says Dillon. He mentions a recent food-health emergency exercise undertaken under the aegis of the Food Safety Authority.
“We’re prepared,” he says.