Americans at Risk
Why We Are Not Prepared for Megadisasters and What We Can Do
By Irwin Redlener
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307265265, 304pp.)
Publication Date: August 22, 2006
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This important book by one of our leading experts on disaster preparedness offers a compelling narrative about our nation’s inability to properly plan for large-scale disasters and proposes changes that can still be made to assure the safety of its citizens.
Five years after 9/11 and one year after Hurricane Katrina, it is painfully clear that the government’s emergency response capacity is plagued by incompetence and a paralyzing bureaucracy. Irwin Redlener, who founded and directs the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, brings his years of experience with disasters and health care crises, national and international, to an incisive analysis of why our health care system, our infrastructure, and our overall approach to disaster readiness have left the nation vulnerable, virtually unable to respond effectively to catastrophic events. He has had frank, and sometimes shocking, conversations about the failure of systems during and after disasters with a broad spectrum of people—from hospital workers and FEMA officials to Washington policy makers and military leaders. And he also analyzes the role of nongovernmental organizations, such as the American Red Cross in the aftermath of Katrina.
Redlener points out how a government with a track record of over-the-top cronyism and a stunning disregard for accountability has spent billions on “random acts of preparedness,” with very little to show for it—other than an ever-growing bureaucracy. As a doctor, Redlener is especially concerned about America’s increasingly dysfunctional and expensive health care system, incapable of handling a large-scale public health emergency, such as pandemic flu or widespread bioterrorism. And he also looks at the serious problem of a disengaged, uninformed citizenry—one of the most important obstacles to assuring optimal readiness for any major crisis.
Redlener describes five natural and man-made disaster scenarios as a way to imagine what we might face, what our current systems would and would not prepare us for, and what would constitute optimal planning—for government and the public—in each situation. To see what could be learned from others, he points up some of the more effective ways countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East have dealt with various disasters. And he concludes with a real prescription: a nine-point proposal for how America can be better prepared as well as an addendum of what citizens themselves can do.
An essential book for our time, Americans at Risk is a devastating and realistic account of where we stand today.
Dr. Irwin Redlener is the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and president of the Children's Health Fund, which he cofounded with singer Paul Simon. He has three children and lives with his wife in New York City.
“Preparing for major disasters is one of the most difficult challenges we face. This fresh look at what’s at stake is a must-read for opinion leaders, elected officials, and, especially, for American citizens who want to know what each of us can–and should–do now.”
–Dr. Robert Kadlec, Staff Director, U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Bioterrorism and Public Health Preparedness
“In his compelling book, Dr. Redlener makes a stirring argument about what’s wrong with our approach to preventing and responding to megadisasters. The descriptions of what actually happens in a large-scale catastrophe are eye-opening. The good news is that the book also tells us what can be done–by governments and individuals–to reduce the devastation of future disasters.”
–President William J. Clinton
“If you are skeptical of White House claims, FEMA’s stated plans, Homeland Security’s policy or DOD’s assessments, do what I have done for more than thirty years, find out what Dr. Irwin Redlener thinks. He has been an unbiased, golden source to reporters who want real answers in our troubled times.”
–Fred Francis, Senior Correspondent, NBC News