Seconds From Disaster

Common Sense Media says

Intriguing docu series dissects modern tragedies.





What parents need to know

Positive messages

The show offers an educational look at scientific and man-made causes of various disasters.


Computer-generated images of fires, natural disasters, and transportation crashes can be disturbing. Re-enactments of the scenes include some implied trauma as well as some shots of dead bodies.

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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this documentary series explains in minute detail the factors leading up to some of the most memorable natural and man-made disasters of modern history -- like the loss of the Columbia space shuttle and the eruption of Mount St. Helens. While depictions of physical trauma are usually vague and bloodless, there are some re-enacted scenes of corpses that could upset kids. The series uses video footage and photos as well as graphic computer-generated images and eyewitness accounts to re-create the scenes of the disasters, resulting in intriguing -- yet emotionally wrenching -- tales. Expert testimony and scientific tests offer explanations of how and why these disasters occurred.

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What's the story?

SECONDS FROM DISASTER recaps the chain of events leading up to some of modern history's most devastating tragedies, including the Oklahoma City bombing, a fatal train derailment in Germany, and the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Each episode of the series combines video footage, photos, eyewitness accounts, and expert testimony to piece together a timeline for the featured event. Dramatic re-enactments, interviews with survivors and their family members, and computer-generated imagery offer fascinating but emotionally stark looks at the reality of the disasters from the viewpoints of those involved. With information gleaned from post-disaster tests and simulations, high-tech replications give viewers a detailed look at the scientific causes of the tragedies. In an episode about the Oklahoma City bombing, for example, graphics depict not only the act of terrorism but also a detailed view of the building's collapse from a structural point of view.

Is it any good?


While there's a lot of knowledge to be garnered from this intriguing and very thorough series, its intensely emotional content means that it's not the best choice for family viewing. Re-enacted scenes of corpses and victims fleeing disaster sites will likely upset young viewers, and video footage of the devastation underscores the harsh reality of the subject matter. Consider previewing an episode or two before sharing the series with teens; if you do, you can use the opportunity to discuss your family's precautionary disaster plan.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how people respond to crises. How do survivors continue on after experiencing such life-altering events? Where do people find strength in difficult times? How do emergency personnel prepare for the many contingencies of disasters? Is a program like this exploiting a painful experience, or using it as a teaching tool? What's the difference? Parents can also use this opportunity to refresh family members' knowledge of emergency procedures where they live.

TV details

Network:National Geographic Channel
TV rating:TV-PG

This review of Seconds From Disaster was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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