Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Book Review: The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters by Charles Perrow

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Book Review: The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters by Charles Perrow

Article excerpt

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

by Charles Perrow

(New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2007)

This is an important book. Based on an in-depth analysis of four especially vulnerable components of U.S. infrastructure, Charles Perrow (author of the sociological classic Normal Accidents ) proposes "target reduction" as a means to help the nation better survive the catastrophes to come. Understanding what the author means by target shrinkage requires the reader to do a bit of digging, especially since Perrow features a number of policy recommendations only loosely related to target size. Perrow also recognizes that his proposals will generate powerful political opposition because of the regulatory activism they would require and their potential conflict with market incentives that continue to foster target vulnerabilities. To limit political influence exerted by the corporate owners of critical infrastructure, and thereby facilitate regulatory change, Perrow suggests far-reaching structural reforms of the U.S. electoral system. Those reforms are unlikely to occur anytime soon. Interestingly, however, Congress is already pushing ahead with some of the regulatory measures endorsed by The Next Catastrophe . The process by which that effort is going forward raises broader questions for homeland security policymaking, and makes Perrow's book all the more timely.

The Next Catastrophe goes beyond the existing literature on critical infrastructure protection. 1 As in Stephen Flynn's America the Vulnerable (2002) and The Edge of Disaster (2007), Perrow makes a persuasive case that the United States should invest more heavily in reducing infrastructure vulnerability, rather than strengthening prevention and response capabilities alone. As in Ted Lewis' Critical Infrastructure Protection in Homeland Security (2006), Perrow examines infrastructure sectors as functional networks, enabling him to identify vulnerabilities and propose solutions beyond those derived from more traditional approaches to infrastructure protection. Perrow carries this analysis into realms that have yet to receive adequate attention in the homeland security literature, including the Internet. Rather than following the more common emphasis on terrorism and natural hazards, Perrow also pays unprecedented attention to the problems of industrial accidents, and brings his path-breaking theory of "normal accidents" to bear on what is - more than any other book in the field - a truly all-hazards analysis of homeland security.

The first section of this review examines why Perrow's proposals are so potentially valuable for reducing the damage caused by terrorist attacks, natural hazards, and industrial accidents, and analyzes his broader argument on behalf of target reduction. The second section explores how, despite the lack of electoral reform Perrow considers so necessary, legislators have recently enacted infrastructure regulations opposed by industry. In particular, I will examine how legislators are seeking to politically advantage their regulatory initiatives by framing them as essential for U.S. security, and thereby advance broader public safety objectives that would otherwise be more difficult to achieve. As those regulatory efforts go forward, The Next Catastrophe will offer a roadmap for protecting the United States that is both innovative and enormously valuable.

"SHRINK THE TARGETS"

The Next Catastrophe addresses a wide range of problems in homeland security, including an insightful analysis of the unintended consequences of centralizing so many disparate programs and organizations in the Department of Homeland Security. I will focus on one especially important theme of the book: the need for target reduction. Perrow urges that "instead of focusing on preventing disasters and coping with their aftermath - which we must continue to do - we should reduce the size of vulnerable targets " (emphasis in the original). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.