Jeff Schlegelmilch


On his book Rethinking Readiness: A Brief Guide to Twenty-First-Century Megadisasters

Cover Interview of July 22, 2020

In a nutshell

We see more and more disasters in the news every day. It is getting to the point where, with the exception of the current COVID-19 pandemic, major record-setting disasters barely make the news cycle for more than a few days. And despite billions in investments to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters, the report card for preparedness is mixed at best.

As we learn more about disasters, we begin to see complexities upon complexities. Disasters are the culmination of a mosaic of factors from the built environment, politics, social structures, ecological dynamics, to culture, and social psychological factors. They are created, managed and burdened through an uncoordinated symphony of stakeholders that all contribute to our societal resilience, whether they know it or not.

And yet, we aren’t built to look at the whole picture. We specialize in various areas of expertise, and focus on the most recent disaster in memory. But the trajectory of societal development is increasing our vulnerability to disasters, as well as to the overarching threats themselves.

This book guides the reader through five looming areas of megadisasters where human activity is contributing to both the threat and the vulnerability. Through the topics of biothreats (including pandemics), climate change, critical infrastructure failure, cyber threats, and nuclear conflict, the nature and potential of these megadisasters is foretold. Commentary from experts in the field who have dedicated their efforts to mitigating these disasters helps to add more context to the scenarios in each chapter. The final chapters look at the cross-cutting themes, and start to illuminate the way ahead, to break the cycle of contributing to these threats and vulnerabilities.

This book should be seen as a primer on this topic. It is a slim volume providing an overview as a launching pad for deeper analysis and understanding. This book is not exhaustive in all of the disaster types we face, and indeed, there are many more that could have been included. Nor can it possibly identify all of the steps to take for readiness in the face of such complexity. But it does offer approaches to build our capacity for managing uncertainty, and for better integrating resilience into our thinking.