"There is no substitute for a planned simulation."

SIMUVAC is the state-funded simulated evacuation program from Don DeLillo's novel White Noise. When the toxic event / billowing cloud strikes in the masterful second act, SIMUVAC personnel take charge of the evacuation.

"You have to make allowances for the fact that everything we see tonight is real."

The SIMUVAC people seem slightly frustrated with the real toxic disaster they have to deal with. After all, they're specialists in simulated evacuations, not the real thing. SIMUVAC illuminates one of the major themes in the novel, the new take on reality versus non-reality in modern times.

Throughout the book the naming of things is very important. First the cloud from the toxic spill is described by the authorities a 'feathery plume', which puts the protagonist and his family ill at ease. Then, when it is redeclared to be a 'black billowing cloud', the protagonist is happy that those who are in control are getting a handle on what's happening. Then later on, the incident changes names again, to a 'toxic event'. All of this name-changing is a facade though. Changing the name doesn't actually change the nature of the incident, it just somehow changes the people's perception of it.

With SIMUVAC, this theme is explored in a different manner. The SIMUVAC folk are highly trained in simulated evacuations. They're trained in non-real things. (Sounds sort of like television). Like everyone else in the novel, they feel at home in a carefully controlled, intricately orchestrated environment. Sure they're dealing with accidents and evacuations, but they're scheduled accidents and micro-managed evacuations.

"If reality intrudes in the form of a car crash or a victim falling off a stretcher, it is important to remember we are not here to mend broken bones or put out real fires."

Later on in the novel, the SIMUVAC people conduct a 'real' simulation. The voice of authority on a loudspeaker, apparently a representative of Advanced Disaster Management, gives detailed instructions on the simulation that's about to occur. The various groups are instructed on what procedures they will carry out and which they won't. Even the victims are told how they should act, to not flail around too much. Through all the humor and irony, there's a message here. Anything out of place is bad. Anything spontaneous, any real accidents, any paradigm shift, anything out of the ordinary is verboten. It scares the poor folks of modern-day North America.

DeLillo, Don. White Noise. New York: Viking, 1985.

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