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The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters

by Charles Perrow

Charles Perrow is famous worldwide for his ideas about normal accidents, the notion that multiple and unexpected failures--catastrophes waiting to happen--are built into our society's complex systems. In The Next Catastrophe, he offers crucial insights into how to make us safer, proposing a bold new way of thinking about disaster preparedness. Perrow argues that rather than laying exclusive emphasis on protecting targets, we should reduce their size to minimize damage and diminish their attractiveness to terrorists. He focuses on three causes of disaster--natural, organizational, and deliberate--and shows that our best hope lies in the deconcentration of high-risk populations, corporate power, and critical infrastructures such as electric energy, computer systems, and the chemical and food industries. Perrow reveals how the threat of catastrophe is on the rise, whether from terrorism, natural disasters, or industrial accidents. Along the way, he gives us the first comprehensive history of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security and examines why these agencies are so ill equipped to protect us. The Next Catastrophe is a penetrating reassessment of the very real dangers we face today and what we must do to confront them. Written in a highly accessible style by a renowned systems-behavior expert, this book is essential reading for the twenty-first century. The events of September 11 and Hurricane Katrina--and the devastating human toll they wrought--were only the beginning. When the next big disaster comes, will we be ready?

Normal Accidents

by Charles Perrow

Normal Accidents analyzes the social side of technological risk. Charles Perrow argues that the conventional engineering approach to ensuring safety--building in more warnings and safeguards--fails because systems complexity makes failures inevitable. He asserts that typical precautions, by adding to complexity, may help create new categories of accidents. (At Chernobyl, tests of a new safety system helped produce the meltdown and subsequent fire.) By recognizing two dimensions of risk--complex versus linear interactions, and tight versus loose coupling--this book provides a powerful framework for analyzing risks and the organizations that insist we run them.The first edition fulfilled one reviewer's prediction that it "may mark the beginning of accident research." In the new afterword to this edition Perrow reviews the extensive work on the major accidents of the last fifteen years, including Bhopal, Chernobyl, and the Challenger disaster. The new postscript probes what the author considers to be the "quintessential 'Normal Accident'" of our time: the Y2K computer problem.

Organizing America

by Charles Perrow

American society today is shaped not nearly as much by vast open spaces as it is by vast, bureaucratic organizations. Over half the working population toils away at enterprises with 500 or more employees--up from zero percent in 1800. Is this institutional immensity the logical outcome of technological forces in an all-efficient market, as some have argued? In this book, the first organizational history of nineteenth-century America, Yale sociologist Charles Perrow says no. He shows that there was nothing inevitable about the surge in corporate size and power by century's end. Critics railed against the nationalizing of the economy, against corporations' monopoly powers, political subversion, environmental destruction, and "wage slavery." How did a nation committed to individual freedom, family firms, public goods, and decentralized power become transformed in one century?Bountiful resources, a mass market, and the industrial revolution gave entrepreneurs broad scope. In Europe, the state and the church kept private organizations small and required consideration of the public good. In America, the courts and business-steeped legislators removed regulatory constraints over the century, centralizing industry and privatizing the railroads. Despite resistance, the corporate form became the model for the next century. Bureaucratic structure spread to government and the nonprofits. Writing in the tradition of Max Weber, Perrow concludes that the driving force of our history is not technology, politics, or culture, but large, bureaucratic organizations.Perrow, the author of award-winning books on organizations, employs his witty, trenchant, and graceful style here to maximum effect. Colorful vignettes abound: today's headlines echo past battles for unchecked organizational freedom; socially responsible alternatives that were tried are explored along with the historical contingencies that sent us down one road rather than another. No other book takes the role of organizations in America's development as seriously. The resultant insights presage a new historical genre.

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