Jeff Schlegelmilch


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

Cover Interview of July 22, 2020


We all have a stake in the future, and no matter what we do, our work contributes to what that future looks like. At a high level, that is a fairly agreeable sentence. But how does that translate into the multitude of transactions we engage in to build resilience? How do different sectors of society integrate resilience into how they make the decisions that, in aggregate, determine whether our threats and vulnerabilities grow or diminish? It is not sufficient to merely hand these challenges off to the disaster specialists and emergency managers to study and manage the consequences of our actions.

I often use the analogy of a Rubik’s cube to describe the impact of policy on disasters. You may be focused on one side, but you are changing many parts with each move. We need to look at our societal development the same way. We can’t focus solely on the piece that we own, but need to consider the broader impacts, and also the tremendous opportunities that come from doing so. We still need deep specialization in the sciences and within our bureaucracies. I am not arguing to break down the silos. Silos have purpose. But we need to bridge between them, share the insights we can draw from other fields, as well as the impacts that the decisions in one area have on others, so we can truly evaluate if the value of our development decisions are worth the risk.

For those already deeply immersed in the fields of disaster science and emergency management, I hope that the discussions in this book prove validating and energizing in recognizing how the field is evolving in the face of twenty-first-century disasters. And for those looking to enter the field, those in positions of influence, and concerned citizens, it is my hope that this book will garner additional understanding, and inspire deeper questioning and analysis into how we can all better prepare for the disasters that we can’t stop, and prevent the ones we can.

Finally, with all of the doom and gloom that is inevitable in talking about risks and our vulnerabilities, I remain hopeful. My optimism is not without criticism from others. But I truly believe that we have more knowledge available to us than ever before. And while distrust in science, and the growing polarization of our politics makes that hope seem futile, I have the privilege of seeing just how many brilliant minds and community organizations are stepping up to these challenges, and are not waiting for a cookie cutter answer or a tweet to tell them what to do.

The challenges we face from megadisasters in the twenty-first-century are not impossible problems, they are just really, really hard, and require new ways of thinking and collaborating to solve. I think we are up for this challenge, and in reading this book, I hope others do too.