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Charles Perrow Disasters Evermore? Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters I HAVE A SIMPLE MESSAGE'. DISASTERS FROM NATURAL, INDUSTRIAL, and technological sources, and from deliberate sources such as terror­ ism, are inevitable, and increasing. We may prevent some and mitigate some, but we cannot escape them . At present we focus on protecting the targets, or reducing the damage to them or the people involved. We do not do an adequate job at this; our organizations are not up to it and rarely will be. Meanwhile we neglect the m ore basic strategy of reducing the size of the targets. This involves reducing three kinds of concentrations. First, there are the concentrations of hum ans in risky locations. Second, there are the concentrations of energy found in hazardous materials in populated areas. Finally, there are the concen­ trations of corporate power that sit astride our critical infrastructure. Some targets are not reducible and m itigation is all we can do. Cities will not be abandoned because they sit on earthquake faults, though we can reverse their growth som ewhat and m ake them m uch safer. Nor can we do m uch about m eteorites, tsunam is, volcanoes, or tornadoes. The spread o f destructive energy from these is so vast, rapid, and often unpredictable th at reducing the size of targets will social research Vol 75 : No 3 : Fall 2008 733 have little effect. And w ith pandemics and bioterrorism , it is just too easy for their deadly organisms to spread for us to do m uch m ore than remediation. But other than tornadoes, these kinds of disasters are extremely rare. Our frequent disasters are hurricanes, floods, explosions, and fires. We can expect m ore of these in our near future, and reducing the size of their targets is feasible, though difficult. DECONCENTRATING POPULATIONS The US population has steadily been moving to risky locations along the Florida and Gulf coasts, as well as to seismically active locations on the West Coast. Other papers in this volume detail this movem ent and the increasing property damage sustained, especially from hurri­ canes. There are also substantial threats from increased settlem ent densities near our m ajor rivers w ith their vulnerable levees, especially in the St. Louis area. Substantial settlem ents in the Sacramento Valley of California are as m uch as 10 feet below the rivers because of the compacting of the earth, the removal of vegetation, and ever higher levees. Since the levees are poorly m aintained, these settlem ents are vulnerable to both floods and earthquakes. Dikes around the largest lake in Florida are also threatened and thus thousands of homes and fresh water supplies for lower Florida (20).*Dense settlem ents are creep­ ing closer to M ount Rainer, and an eruption of th at m ountain could send lava flows all the way to Seattle (16). This is a m ore rem ote danger than the others, but the state could consider limiting settlem ents in the direct path of the expected lava flows. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has not proved to be a wake-up call for addressing hurricane vulnerabilities. New building goes on in all the southeastern coastal areas, and despite the recom m endations of experts, flooded areas of New Orleans are being resettled (Ripley, 2006). Rather than w ait for another Katrina to depopulate vulnerable area, we should forbid further building in vulnerable areas and relocate the m ost vulnerable populations. New Orleans is an im portant port and center of oil and gas facilities, but it is estim ated that the em ploym ent 734 social research in these industries is only about 10,000 people (28). The city could be one-third its pre-Katrina size, and at that size it could be protected. But w hat about Miami, Tampa, or Charleston? First we should elim inate federal subsidies for flood insurance (see the paper by Howard K unreuther in this volume) since this is a perverse incen­ tive, and remove the power of states to keep risk insurance below the m arket rate. At present th e insurance industry, to keep its business w ith its...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 733-752
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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