Monday, July 1, 2019

Louise K. Comfort's "The Dynamics of Risk"

Louise K. Comfort is professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and former director of the Center for Disaster Management at the University of Pittsburgh. Her books include Shared Risk: Complex Systems in Seismic Response.

Comfort applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Dynamics of Risk: Changing Technologies and Collective Action in Seismic Events, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Dynamics of Risk describes the types of organizations participating in response operations for the November 12, 1999 Duzce Earthquake in Turkey and makes a brief comparison to response operations for the larger, more destructive 1999 Marmara Earthquake that occurred a scant three months earlier in Turkey. The reader would learn that the book is about response operations following earthquakes, but would not know which earthquakes, where they occurred, what time frame is being considered, or why the issue of seismic risk is important. The reader would learn that there is some disconnect with the humanitarian aid system of the United Nations in response to the Duzce Earthquake, but would not fully grasp the global responsibility of UN member-states to assist nations afflicted by disaster.

This page 99 test provides only a limited glimpse into the set of twelve earthquake response systems included in the book’s analysis and misses the escalating danger of seismic risk to an increasingly interdependent, global world. As populations move steadily into urban regions located in seismic zones, interconnected systems of communication, transportation, trade, and finance increase the potential size, scale, and cost of losses from major earthquakes that can shatter the existing built and organizational infrastructure in seconds.

Importantly, the reader would miss the book’s hopeful argument that innovation in information technologies now offers a means to anticipate risk more accurately, share basic information regarding mitigation of seismic risk more widely, and coordinate actions among multiple organizations, jurisdictions, and nations more effectively. People do learn from previous seismic events, but this knowledge needs to be shared, and adapted to changing conditions of technology, social organization, and culture. No single community or nation can manage seismic risk alone, and all nations will benefit when the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to reduce risk is shared collectively. The challenge is to design and implement a global commons for the continuing search and exchange of information, knowledge, and effective strategies for mitigating seismic risk.
Learn more about The Dynamics of Risk at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue