, , , , , ,

When I write a review of a book I base it often upon specific quotes from the book. The Cure for Catastrophe by Robert Muir-Wood is filled with many helpful ideas and I highly recommend buying and reading the whole thing and applying what is there to be learned to your daily life. The page numbers of the quotes precede the quotes, but there needs to be context to make the quotes more meaningful. Especially those living on the United States West Coast should take heed…  “page 215, FEMA predicts that 13,000 will die in Oregon, California, and Washington State,” in the inevitable Cascadia earthquake. One of the greatest problems for our world is people’s denial of the reality of rare events. If people haven’t experienced a serious problem recently they forget that it should be included in their personal plans. “268, As long as the risks are invisible, there seems to be no advantage in reducing them.” Out of sight, out of mind.

Notes from The Cure for Catastrophe

62 Within a week of the April 19, 1906 earthquake, the San Francisco Real Estate Board passed a resolution to rebrand the “San Francisco Earthquake” as the “San Francisco Fire.”

177 What is considered a “safe refuge” may simply be someone’s optimistic theory.

194 Today we have come to expect at least a week’s warning for an eruption, two or three days for a hurricane, twenty-four hours for its storm surge, at least twelve hours for (faster and harder-to-forecast) intense windstorms, six hours for flash floods, twenty minutes for a tsunami, and at least five minutes for a tornado. But the deadly earthquake remains strangely, remarkably, almost admirably, resistant to all that forecasting science has thrown at it.

197 In earthquake country, as you walk into a building, gauge its quality. In southern Italy even today, people bolt for the street when they feel any shaking-nobody trusts their buildings.

197 Hospital buildings are notoriously bad performers in disasters.

198 Adrenaline has kicked in, promoting wild, selfless, altruistic behavior, enough to drive men and women to venture into dangerous, partially collapsed shells of buildings to try to rescue people even at serious risk to their own lives. This is true heroism.

198 Nine out of ten of those rescued were extricated by people from the same town, and almost eight out of ten by people from the same building.

199 Thirteen times as many people were rescued on the first day as on all the subsequent days.

199 Fewer than half of those initially trapped are still alive after six hours.

199 One-quarter had suffered acute pressure necrosis: a form of kidney failure.

199 To treat the condition by replenishing the volume of wasted muscle with fluids, keeping the metabolites correctly balanced to prevent kidney damage and acute arrhythmias.

200 Everything that happens after an earthquake favors fire.

200 Instead of affording easily rescued people aid, they were throwing themselves prostrate before images, beating their breasts, and imploring for themselves the protection of their saints.

201 Today the “rescuability” of victims is graded on a four-point scale from those who are injured but not trapped, to those who are trapped by beams or rubble, and on to “void-space entrapment” and finally “the entombed.”

201 To survive for several days you need to stay warm, avoid injuries, find water, and have absolute faith that you will be discovered. “of all the physical evils they endured, thirst was the most intolerable; and their agony was increased by the idea that they were abandoned by their friends.”

202 “in a common catastrophe, all men are brothers.”

204 A well-publicized catastrophe today attracts between 1,000 and 2,000 international rescuers, who fly in to retrieve ten or twenty additional survivors–at a cost estimated on the order of $1 million for every life preserved.

205 Many disaster professionals condemn these [international rescue] missions as expensive, publicity-seeking distractions.

205 Rescuers and TV crews will leave the site of the disaster at the same time, even departing on the same plane.

206 The true heroes of disasters are the larger nongovernmental organizations (NGOs): Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) running field hospitals for the long term; Red Cross and Oxfam managing camps for the homeless…; Save the Children caring for orphans … undertaken away from the media spotlight.

207 Too bad if news from the disaster was eclipsed by a headline-grabbing royal anniversary, or Olympic games, or another high school shooting.

215 In the United States, some 700 people have been killed by earthquakes and tsunami since 1906-around seven each year on average. Yet FEMA predicts that 13,000 will die in Oregon, California, and Washington State when the next giant Magnitude 9 Cascadia earthquake occurs, maybe ten or a hundred years in the future.

216 in Italy … and particular Turkey, Coburn found that it all comes down to predicting collapse rates. If the building remains standing you have a good chance of walking out alive. Based on Spence and Coburn’s work, it became possible to predict how many people would be killed and injured in a particular earthquake.

221 All it takes is one individual grabbing something and others witnessing that he is not apprehended, and looting can rapidly escalate in a chain reaction. Looting has followed almost every urban hurricane catastrophe in the United States since 1900.

222 [Voters’]  Memories are short. Only floods or droughts in the year leading up to an election have been found to change voting behavior.

223 The problem is that money spent on preparedness wins no votes. Voters are myopic–they reward leaders who arrived to offer aid. An ounce of prevention may technically be worth a pound of cure, but in electoral terms, an ounce of cure wins more votes than a pound of prevention.

257 Central to risk culture is storytelling. …”The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf” made perfect sense in its original English hazard climate. On the edge of the stormy North Atlantic, it would be dangerous to live in a straw house.

260 Across the population, recklessness is balanced against prudence. Road traffic casualties are a thermometer of holistic risk–of what society is prepared to tolerate in death and injury in exchange for the benefits of mobility and transport.

261 Casualty rates in road traffic accidents turn out to be self-regulated, hovering at the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable risk, but what about disaster deaths?

261 Yet the issues are the same: Are there rules in place? How are the rules policed? Do people choose to follow the rules? Are they motivated to reduce risk? – The builder is also a driver. If he doesn’t wear a seatbelt, he probably ignores the building code.

264 No city is constructed so strongly that it will never suffer any damage. Most building codes only protect life, not property, so we need to cultivate resilience: the ability of individuals, communities, and cities to recover after a disaster.

268 As long as the risks are invisible, there seems to be no advantage in reducing them.

 Most risks are avoidable, but you must make the necessary efforts to avoid them.