Planning and dealing with disaster

I don’t think of myself as a person who particularly reads about chaos and disasters but I have reviewed a few books of that type lately. Midnight in Chernobyl is reviewed here, Fall and Rise (the story of 9/11 seen through the eyes of some of the victims) is reviewed here, Ship of Fate is reviewed here, and Deep Down Dark (the story of the trapped Chilean miners) is reviewed here.

When the Dust Settles is similar but also different to these titles. The author, Lucy Easthope, is an emergency planner and one of many who are attached to the government and local councils or who work independently. Their job is to help plan by assessing risk and developing ways of mitigating and handling it. There is apparently a National Risk Register which records the biggest risks to our nation and plans for how these will be dealt with – for many years the highest risk for this country has been a pandemic.

The author tells her personal story of being part of planning and then looks at some disasters where she has been involved and what she has learned from them. She is particularly interested in what happens after a disaster – body recovery, rehousing homeless people, handing the possessions of the dead and what well-meaning people get wrong. She talks about a number of examples including the 7/7 bombings, the Grenfell fire, the Christchurch earthquake, flooding near Doncaster and the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

I found this absolutely gripping. Virtually all the disasters she mentions are well known but she shines a different light on them. She is honest about where mistakes are made by those responding to disasters, is clear about what never to say to families of victims and scathing about recent UK governments which have changed the emphasis of their planning from concentrating on victims and survivors to reputational protection of the authorities.

Every bit of this book showed me something new. I was completely unaware of the profession and how professional emergency planners are involved when the initial disaster is over. I had never thought about so many of the things she mentions as part of her role. I learned a lot about how people respond to disaster. This book was informative and eye-opening and I really enjoyed it (I read the audio book which was narrated by the author).

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