The origins and genesis of the Donderback Initiative, as it has become known to us now in the Department of Disaster and Destruction (DDD), arose from below-standard evacuation yields in Florida during Hurricane Irma in 2017, resulting in at least two dozen confirmed deaths or casualties in what used to be the Florida Keys. This much is fact.
The apocryphal nature of this origin story, like all stories, begins when we endeavor to describe Leon Donderback’s role in the formulation of the now-famous office document MEMO_REV_4_RE_EVAC_SCEN—commonly referred to as the “Star Trek Postulate.” This memo proposed a solution to the problem of sub-adequate evacuation values by explicating a paradigm shift from the idea of shelters as sites of desperation to sites of celebration. This notion of evacuation shelters as “Places to Be” we believe was modeled on Donderback’s own acknowledged love of Comic-Con and Star Trek, as well as his nonverbalized (but inferred by contemporaries) loneliness and sense of alienation from his colleagues in Florida’s 26th congressional district that year, Donderback’s first and last in that office.
The problem, again, the timeless problem perhaps pre-dating the Bible’s Noah, was how to encourage people to evacuate their homes during natural disasters, which were a weekly if not daily occurrence in those days when belief in Climate Change was equated with granola-crunching, vegan liberalism and hipster Wall Street occupiers and vinyl collectors, denounced by then-President [redacted]. After demonstrating through demographic functional analysis that the group most responsive to evacuations were single/widowed geriatric citizens, the document continued to postulate, famously (annotated now like famous chess games, dotted with “!”s and “?”s), that if loneliness is a central priming function for evacuation, then creating shelters that promise affiliation, belonging, a sense of connection, and/or the potential for making friends or sharing hobbies/avocations, would in turn generate an increase in voluntary evacuations and a decrease in needless casualties and government spending. (Then-President [redacted]’s tax reform defunding emergency relief programs like FEMA resulted in a variety of curious and notable responses in the citizenry, including the depopulation of coastal California and the concomitant decline in what was called Hollywood and rise of the Mobile cinema industry [see Walther & Napel, “On the Senescence of the Hollywood Industry; or, What Happened to Movies?” pp. 23-25]).
Thus, Donderback’s inclusion in the memo about attending Comic-Con and meeting George Takei, a hero among the homosexual population at the time, which was an ennobling and thrilling experience for him, he indicated. Following this, he conjectured that if shelters were made to be like conventions, or parties, that people would be drawn to them. In the memo he lists four exempla: “Singles Gala,” “Fantasy Sports Haven,” “70s Night!,” and “Fun for Foodies,” explaining in a footnote that “the impetus for evacuation ought to occur in the neuroscience of pleasure, not the harsh realities of fear and doom, which possess us daily.”
In the decades since, Donderback’s four examples (known as “Donderback’s Quadrant”) have exploded across the nation. There are now 1,000 different Donderback Shelter Convention Models (DSCM’s), ranging from NRA affiliations to Cosplay enthusiasts to religious sects to various cult and/or alternative fact communities organized around aliens, Scientology, or neo-Luddites. Evacuation rates across the country have risen from a P-D. (pre-Donderback) rate of 29% to a robust and gleaming 67% in the last year reported (2189). To this datum we must ascribe, following Donderback’s hunch, the primitive and sobering fact that the central problem of human existence is the feeling of being, and dying, alone.
James McAdams has published fiction in decomP, Superstition Review, Amazon/Day One, Literary Orphans, and B.O.A.A.T. Journal, among others. Currently, he is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the University of South Florida. His work can be viewed at jamesmcadams.net.