When it comes to disaster planning, it pays to be a pessimist. This may be one of the biggest legacies from the last decade’s catastrophic events, from the September 11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Japan’s earthquake-driven nuclear disaster. While a healthy, rational temperament may eschew worst-case scenarios, public officials will need to take an increasingly vigilant stance to save lives when the next major catastrophe strikes.
That view is shared by people like Dr. Jennifer Leaning, an expert in early response efforts to war and disaster at the Harvard School of Public Health. Most major disasters, she argues, have a significant element of the predictable to them and there can be little excuse for those who fail to think them through. Hurricanes and other storms will only do more damage to cities and towns that are more densely populated than ever. Earthquakes can shake the very core of nuclear reactors. And when struck hard enough, by men instead of the elements, the Twin Towers did fall.