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Americans at Risk

Why We are Not Prepared for Megadisasters and What We Can Do

Reviewed by Mike McCally, former PSR Executive Director

Dr. Redlener’s topic is “mega-disasters”: a flood like Katrina, a major earthquake in Seattle or San Francisco, a toxic chemical release during a tornado, or an attack by a nuclear terrorist. His question is whether we are prepared for such a disaster and his answer is “No.”  Redlener’s text is based on four mega-disaster scenarios in narrative form. They read like the script for a TV thriller yet they are entirely plausible and chilling. He analyzes the responses to these scenarios and produces a critique of current government policy and programs. National policy, as executed by the Department of Homeland Security and its agencies, has produced, in Redlener’s words, “random acts of preparedness.” For example, a resident of the state of Wyoming gets more per capita funding for preparedness than a resident of New York City. Local community preparedness is limited not by knowledge of what needs to be done but by failures of funding, planning, communication and interagency cooperation.

Dr. Redlener’s consideration of nuclear terrorism is more fully developed by PSR in its report, “The U.S. and Nuclear Terrorism: Still Dangerously Unprepared,” which examines three nuclear scenarios in detail and comes to very similar conclusions as Dr. Redlener.

Dr. Redlener was a PSR board member and leader in the early 1980s. He is presently the Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

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