Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pg. 99: Charles Perrow's "The Next Catastrophe"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Charles Perrow's The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters.

About the book, from the publisher:

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?

Among the praise for The Next Catastrophe:

"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

Read an excerpt from The Next Catastrophe and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Charles Perrow is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Yale University. His books include Organizing America: Wealth, Power, and the Origins of Corporate Capitalism and Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies. He has worked as a consultant for the U.S. military, the White House, and the nuclear-power industry.

The Page 99 Test: The Next Catastrophe.

--Marshal Zeringue