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

Charles Perrow
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Book Description

27 Feb 2011

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? In a new preface to the paperback edition, Perrow examines the recent (and ongoing) catastrophes of the financial crisis, the BP oil spill, and global warming.

Frequently Bought Together

The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters + Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies (Princeton Paperbacks) + Human Error
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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (27 Feb 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691150168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691150161
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.2 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 115,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2007

"[Perrow's] 1984 book Normal Accidents and his many publications analyzing how and why technological systems are vulnerable to disaster have achieved iconic status. In The Next Catastrophe, Perrow extends his analysis to incorporate 'natural' disasters and terrorism more fully."--American Prospect

"Perrow amply describes the failure of governmental agencies to anticipate, plan for and effectively respond to a whole series of very serious threats to our well being, if not to our very survival. . . . This is a sobering book. If enough people hear Perrow's message, the future might be ever so slightly less catastrophic."--Social Forces

"The threefold demographic vulnerabilities to disasters [described by Perrow] are well stated and merit continuing attention from scientists, engineers, emergency management practitioners, and policy makers."--American Journal of Sociology

"This book proposes a bold new way of thinking about disaster preparedness...Focusing on three causes of disaster--natural, organizational, and deliberate--he shows that our best hope lies in the deconcentration of high-risk populations, corporate power, and critical infrastructures. He also provides the first comprehensive history of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and examines why these agencies are so ill equipped to protect U.S. citizens."--Natural Hazards Observer

"Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks have exposed the U.S.'s vulnerabilities to natural and unnatural disasters. What should be done to prevent such catastrophes in the future? Acclaimed sociologist and systems analyst Perrow, addresses this question...The book is written in a highly readable prose that is accessible to general audiences. Indispensable for undergraduate/graduate collections in disaster management studies and risk assessment studies, and extremely useful for environmental studies and environmental sociology."--T. Niazi, Choice

"The Next Catastrophe is an important and far-reaching book that, in arguing for the reduction of vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure to natural, industrial, and terrorist disasters, tackles issues of high significance to us all. It must be hoped that the readership of this book includes not only researchers and industrial safety practitioners but also executives along with politicians at all levels and that its message is acted upon."--David M. Clarke, Risk Analysis

From the Inside Flap

"The Next Catastrophe is the work of the master at his formidable best--a dazzling array of learning, perspective, good sense, and, above all, command."--Kai Erikson, Yale University

"From the opening pages, The Next Catastrophe is riveting, eye-opening, and haunting. The causes of disasters go far beyond random acts of nature or terrorism; they reflect underlying systemic and managerial issues that we must confront in order to ensure our safety. Luckily, Charles Perrow digs deeply to find some difficult but promising solutions. Concerned citizens must join the experts in reading this brilliant book."--Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School professor, best-selling author of Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End

"A profound and vital book, The Next Catastrophe provides a devastating indictment of the U.S. government's response to the deep organizational faults revealed by the September 11 attacks and Katrina. Perrow shows in fascinating detail how our politicians allow human disasters to be transformed into opportunities for profiteering and politicking, and routinely substitute wasteful bureaucracies for smart plans to reorganize fragile systems. The fundamental answer, Perrow writes, is to discard the profit- and power-driven ideologies in favor of our nation's traditional common-sense approach to the challenges of our all-too-real world."--Barry C. Lynn, author of End of the Line: The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation

"A profound meditation on the paradox that modern technological and management orthodoxies have taken us down an increasingly perilous path. In the name of efficiency, sensitive industries are now so concentrated that they can be crippled at a single blow, from nature, accidents, or acts of terrorism. The mantra of asserting 'central control' in response to catastrophes only makes things worse, Perrow notes, as hierarchies strangle grassroots networks of local responders that might do some good. A trenchant, troubling study."--John Arquilla, Naval Postgraduate School

"The Next Catastrophe is a fascinating, stimulating, and far-reaching work. Perrow's signature themes are here--the role of political and economic institutions, the reach of their power into organizations, and the inevitability of major organizational failures. The basic argument will stir discussion, and the feasibility of Perrow's proposed solutions is sure to provoke controversy."--Lynn Eden, author of Whole World on Fire: Organizations, Knowledge, and Nuclear Weapons Devastation

"Perrow's thesis is laudable and his execution is strong. When he discusses the mistakes still being made in the way the U.S. has set up FEMA and Homeland Security, he is especially strong balanced, thoughtful, and convincing--and his explanation of the Enron debacle is one of the clearest ever presented. Overall, he analyzes how our organizations fail, why it is that regulation doesn't solve the problems, and how susceptible we have become as a result, doing so in a way that is just plain splendid."--William R. Freudenburg, University of California, Santa Barbara

"Charles Perrow is the undisputed 'master of disaster.' In this timely and well-written book, Perrow offers not only a shrewd sociological diagnosis of the looming threat of (un)natural disasters, but, lo and behold, in arguing for us to shrink targets and disperse risk, he actually provides a bold yet feasible policy solution to what will surely be a growing threat to our way of life."--Dalton Conley, author of The Pecking Order: A Bold New Look at How Family and Society Determine Who We Become

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read. 26 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
First off, I got the paperback 2011 copy, Perrow, C. notes that this preface of the 2011 book has been updated from the 2005 book to include BP oil spill, economic meltdown and global warming. (this may help you pick which copy you want) I dont have the 2005 copy so cant say that was covered there.

Short Review;
This is a great book, Perrow, C. makes good use of reference though in some cases an academic may find the references not to be of a great source, such as the use of blogs from the web!
This aside Perrow, C. like his other books, provides for an excellent read, discussing topics of great merit, while he dose include political views on some topics but needs to do this to talk about decentralization of high-risk populations, and how critical infrastructures will need to change. Perrow, C. clearly keeps his book within the context of the USA but his views can be used though the world (mostly).
Perrow, C. discuss the reduction of vulnerabilities in the fild of - natural, organizational, and deliberate (terrorist) disasters and this book is aimed for a broad array of readers from risk management students to practitioners and even just an interested reader.

Well done Perrow, C. looking forward to whats next!
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Certainly worth the read 18 Mar 2011
By Shane C
Having read normal accidents this book certainly expands that theme, excellent preface, it was quite ironic the day it came out. A lesson to be learnt on reducing our vulnerabilities.
Thought provoking
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Next Catastrophe 16 Feb 2008
By Kevin MacG Adams - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Dr. Perrow has done another good job with a difficult and immediate problem. The book is very qualitative and does not touch on many of the quantitative methods available to model threats and how these risks are evaluated by the government and insurance companies. A mention of these methods and techniques, with appropriate references, would add immensely to this book.

Kevin MacG. Adams, Ph.D.
34 of 55 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Too much politics, too little thoughtful analysis 16 May 2007
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Perrow's book, Normal Accidents, is a classic in its field. I purchased The Next Catastrophe assuming that it would be a worthy successor. Boy, was I disappointed. Instead of careful argumentation, Perrow gives political commentary, based on nothing more than his own biases and preconceived notions. Normal Accidents was marred in a few places by clear political bias, but the overall analysis of the book was so well-done that overlooking those few places was easy. This is not true of The Next Catastrophe, in which good analysis and argumentation is hard to find amidst the diatribe. If you are interested in knowing about Perrow's political views, buy this book; otherwise, do not waste your money.
13 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, Crystal-Clear, Speaks Truth to Power 3 April 2008
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Amazon destroyed this review in error and I failed to keep a file copy. This is a reconstructed review--not nearly as good as the original--nothing I can do about it.

----------reconstructed review-------------

This book is a learned essay, and I immediately discerned (I tend to read the index and bibliographies first, to understand the provenance of the author's knowledge) that the author has excelled at both casting a very wide net for sources, and at distilling and presenting those sources in a useful new manner with added insights.

Key points:

Natural disasters impact on 6 times more people than all the conflict on the planet.

Industrial irresponsibility, especially in the nuclear, chemical, and biological industries, is legion, and much more potentially catastrophic than any terrorist attack. Of special concern is the storage of large amounts of toxic, flammable, volatile, or reactive materials outside the security perimeters--this includes spent nuclear fuel rods, railcars with 90,000 tons of chlorine that if combined with fire would put millions at risk.

The entire book is an indictment of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which the author says was designed for permanent failure (at the same time that it took over and then gutted the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)).

The author focuses on how concentrations of people, energy, and high-value economic targets make us more vulnerable than we need to be. Dispersal, and moving small amounts of toxic materials (just enough just in time, rather than a year's supply on site), can help.

The author outlines five remediation strategies:

REDUCTIONS of amounts

TRANSFERS from outside the wire to inside the wire

SUBSTITUTION (e.g. of bleach for chlorine)

MIND-SET SHIFT to emphasize public safety and regulation over profit

REFORM of the political system, where federal laws now set CEILINGS for safety rather than floors (one of many reasons we have 27 secessionist movements in the USA--the federal government is insolvent and abjectly corrupt and incapable).

We learn that post-9/11 we have spent tens of billions on counter-terrorism to ill-effect, while completely neglecting rudimentary precautions and protections against natural and industrial disasters that will inevitably turn into catastrophes for lack of competent organizations.

The author emphasizes that complex systems will fail no matter what, but it is much more dangerous to the public if the government and the industrial executives refuse to do their jobs. The author coins the term "executive failure" to describe top leaders who deliberately decide to ignore federal regulations on safety, and describes a number of situations where near-nuclear meltdown and other disasters came too close to reality.

The power grid, PRIOR TO deregulation, is treated as a model of a system that developed with six positive traits:

1. Bottom-up
2. Voluntary alliances
3. Shared facilities at cost
4. Members support independent research & development
5. Oversight stresses commonality interdependence
6. Deregulation is harmful to public safety

The author sums up the enduring sources of failure as:

ORGANIZATIONAL -- flawed by design (pyramidal organizations cannot scale nor digest massive amounts of new fast information)

EXECUTIVE -- deliberate high crimes and misdemeanors, seeking short-term profit without regard to long-term costs to the public safety. "We almost lost Toledo." Buy the book for that story alone.

REGULATORY -- the corruption of Congress, now known to be legendary.

The author tells us that globalization has eliminated the "water-tight bulkheads" within industries and economies, meaning that single points of failure (like the Japanese factory making silicon chips) can impact around the world and immediately. The author prefers to nurture networks of small firms, and this is consistent with other books I have read: economies of scale are no longer, they externalize more costs to the public than they save in efficiencies.

The book ends with an overview of the Internet, which is not the author's forte. He notes that our critical infrastructure is connected to the Internet, but I like to add emphasis here: all of our SCADA (supervisory control and data administration) are on the Internet and hackable.

I like very much the author's view that Microsoft and others should be held liable for security blunders that cost time and money to the end users. I recall that Bill Gates once said that if cars were built like computers they would cost very little and run which the auto industry executive replied: yes, and they would crash every four blocks and kill every fourth person (or something along those lines). We still do not have a desktop analytic suite of tool because of proprietary protections for legacy garbage.

I am certain that We the People can live up to the promise contained in Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace which, as with all books I publish, is free online as well as being offered by Amazon for those who love to hold and read and annotate hard copy.

Here are other books I recommend all of which support the author's very grave concerns about our irresponsibility as a Nation:
Pandora's Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy
The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water We Drink
The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead
The Informant: A True Story
Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story
The Republican War on Science
The Price of Loyalty : George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill
The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy
The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century
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