Coping with emergencies, doomsday scenarios and when the s**t hits the fan

‘In Case of Emergencies’ exhibition: The human brain codes risk in five categories – won’t happen, unlikely, 50-50, likely and will happen

We are poorly equipped for making decisions about catastrophes, argues Pete Lunn, from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

“It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that the human brain codes risk in about five categories – won’t happen, unlikely, fifty-fifty, likely and will happen,” Lunn believes.

The arising issues in such scenarios feature in a new exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin, which takes a light-hearted yet reflective look at how to cope with catastrophes or disasters should they occur.

In Case of Emergency, offers visitors opportunities to play disaster board games; visit a survivalist bar, consider a post-apocalyptic world and learn survival skills on a deserted island.


In a catalogue essay, Lunn contends we are poorly equipped for making decisions about unlikely but massive catastrophes – whether that’s a tsunami; an earthquake, a nuclear attack or a political crisis.

In Case of Emergency asks its audiences to go into a darkened "situation room", built on site in the Science Gallery, and consider their options if they found themselves in a place where disaster strikes. Visitors can also volunteer to give their best guesses about the likelihood of catastrophes from viruses gone wild to asteroids hitting earth for an ESRI survey.

But, just in case you think it is all fun and games, Cliona O'Farrelly, professor of comparative immunology at Trinity College Dublin, argues the human species will die out because of its inability to reproduce biologically. "Numbers and quality of human sperm have been falling steadily for over 40 years. Workplace stress, sleeplessness, obesity, social media . . . are all thought to contribute. And, ongoing chemical pollution of water, air, soil and our food chain is having unmeasured effects on human physiology, immunology, endocrinology and reproduction," she says.

O’Farrelly’s doomsday scenario is that humans will probably just peter out as a species, leaving the planet to bats, cockroaches, microbes and other species who manage their existence better.

Visiting the exhibition the day before it opened, The Irish Times witnessed the edgy creative energy of artists putting the final touches to their creations. Byron Rich, Canadian artist and professor of electronic art and intermedia at Allegheny College, Pennsylvania, has created a post-apocalyptic exhibit in which human microbiota could be stored and sent up into space in a satellite.

“The hypothesis of panspermia suggests that all life spreads on asteroids, comets or artificially so this golden egg capsule [with freeze dried human microbiota] is designed to sit within a spherical aluminium satellite which will degrade in 5,000 years to start human life again,” he explains.

Artist, Siobhán McGibbon and writer, Maeve O'Lynn have created an interactive 3D survival guide called the Almanac of Tomorrow in collaboration with Curam Centre for Research in Medical Devices at NUI Galway. "We've created a small science fiction universe which looks at the superior biological qualities of aquatic basal animals. Their ability to live in communities, only accept their own kind and change sex if there are too many males or females offers us a metaphor for future human life on this planet."

'In Case of Emergency' runs at TCD Science Gallery, on Pearse Street, Dublin 2, until February 4th, 2018. A programme of talks and workshops coincide with the exhibition. See

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment