The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters

The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters

The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters

The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters

Synopsis

Charles Perrow is famous worldwide for his ideas about normal accidents, the notion that multiple and unexpected failures--catastrophes waiting to happen--are built into our society's complex systems. In The Next Catastrophe, he offers crucial insights into how to make us safer, proposing a bold new way of thinking about disaster preparedness.


Perrow argues that rather than laying exclusive emphasis on protecting targets, we should reduce their size to minimize damage and diminish their attractiveness to terrorists. He focuses on three causes of disaster--natural, organizational, and deliberate--and shows that our best hope lies in the deconcentration of high-risk populations, corporate power, and critical infrastructures such as electric energy, computer systems, and the chemical and food industries. Perrow reveals how the threat of catastrophe is on the rise, whether from terrorism, natural disasters, or industrial accidents. Along the way, he gives us the first comprehensive history of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security and examines why these agencies are so ill equipped to protect us.



The Next Catastrophe is a penetrating reassessment of the very real dangers we face today and what we must do to confront them. Written in a highly accessible style by a renowned systems-behavior expert, this book is essential reading for the twenty-first century. The events of September 11 and Hurricane Katrina--and the devastating human toll they wrought--were only the beginning. When the next big disaster comes, will we be ready?

Excerpt

Disasters from natural sources, from industrial and technological sources, and from deliberate sources such as terrorism have all increased in the United States in recent decades, and no diminution is in sight. Weather disturbances are predicted to increase; lowlevel industrial accidents continue but threaten to intensify and the threat of cyber attacks on our “critical infrastructure” becomes ever more credible; foreign terrorists have not relaxed and we anxiously await another attack. Cataclysmic fantasies proliferate on movie screens and DVDs, and scholars write books with “collapse,” “catastrophe,” “our final hour,” and “worst cases” in their titles.

But we have neglected a fundamental response to the trio of disaster sources. Instead of focusing only on preventing disasters and coping with their aftermath—which we must continue to do—we should reduce the size of vulnerable targets. Weapons of mass de-

the evidence for the increase in industrial disasters comes from the Swiss rein
surance firm, the world's largest, Swiss Re. the worldwide figures can be found in
its Sigma reports. (Swiss Re 2002) “Man-made disasters” include road and ship
ping accidents, major fires, and aerospace incidents, and the threshold for qualify
ing is 20 deaths, or 50 injured, or 2,000 homeless, or $70 billion in losses, or in
surances losses ranging from $143 million for shipping, $28 billion for aerospace
to $35 billion for the rest. Similar criteria are applied to natural disasters. For man
made disasters in the United States, the period from 1970 to 1992 averaged 7.7 . . .

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