Ask any first responder, police officer or emergency-room staffer if he or she thinks a full moon makes a difference during a shift, and the answer will be a resounding, “yes.” So imagine the crazed calls you’ll respond to during Armageddon.
A pastor in Oakland, Calif., has received national media coverage for his end-of-the-world proclamations. According to Pastor Harold Camping, Judgment Day is this Saturday. He’s spent thousands of dollars in newspaper and billboard advertising to spread his word — and people are listening. Gatherings are being held this week from East Coast to West — including on the steps of the nation’s Capital Building — to mark “the end of the world.”
All this hysteria made me think of Orson Wells’ War of the Worlds in 1938. The radio broadcast literally had people jumping from their windows, believing that Martians were invading the Earth.
It also reminds me of the Jonestown massacre in 1978, when 912 followers of American cult leader Jim Jones died in a remote South American jungle. Some members were shot, others were forced to drink poison, but most willingly participated in what Jones said was an act of "revolutionary suicide."
Or I think of events in March 1997, when dead bodies were found in a New Age religious cult house in Canada. The Order of the Solar Temple ordered the suicide by cult members, and murder of people unwilling to join them in death. However, the deaths were overshadowed by news on March 26, 1997, by a bigger collective suicide at Rancho Santa Fe near San Diego where police found 39 bodies of members of the Heaven’s Gate religious organization.
While it’s difficult for most people to comprehend the Camping’s predictions of disaster, incidents such as Jonestown and New Age prove there is cause for concern.
In a report on National Public Radio, New Jersey resident Brian Haubert said he believes passionately in that Judgment Day is coming this weekend, and he braces for rejection. "Starting in the Pacific Rim at around the 6 p.m. local time, in each time zone, there will be a great earthquake, such as has never been in the history of the Earth," he said. The true Christian believers — and he hopes he's one of them — will be "raptured" or fly upward to heaven.
What does Haubert think will happen to the rest of us? We have to wait another 153 days for the entire universe to be destroyed.
Most emergency responders are taking the predictions with less than a grain of salt. “Mass extinction has been around as long as man,” Chief Ron Coleman said.
One emergency manager believes that much of the religious fanaticism and predictions will continue through to 2012, the year long-predicted as the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar. Hundreds of movies and books have been written about 2012 and the end of civilization.
“It’s a sexy story and the media has picked it up,” said Rob Gunter, emergency-management administrator for Glendale, Ariz. “And these stories will continue to 2012 because people are checking to see if there’s any truth to the predictions.”
Gunter predicts that it will be “business as usual” this weekend, with no special plans in the event of any demonstrations or protests, but the department will maintain order and deal with any event that inhibits the government.
“We have a Security Response Option; officers have specific tactics and would be our ‘friendlies’ to their ‘friendlies’ at keeping the crowd safe,” he said. Officers keep a watchful eye for anyone who doesn’t agree with the crowd or for signs of riot mentality.
We might laugh, but there are people out there who fervently believe that the world will end soon. Who can blame them? Major floods, devastating tornadoes and the possibility of nuclear destruction all have made frightening headlines recently.
And what will that do to the emergency services? How will the emergency services respond? One call at a time — just as they always have for centuries.