Book Review: Cassandra’s Curse: the Law and Forseeable Future Disasters

Book Review by Edward A. Thomas Esq., President of the Natural Hazards Mitigation Association.

Special Issue Cassandra’s Curse: The Law and Foreseeable Future Disasters (Studies in Law, Politics and Society, Volume 68) edited by Surat, Austin; Burton, Lloyd and Sun, Lisa; Emerald Group Publishing Limited (2015) ISBN: 978-1-78560-299-3

This excellent, must read book is part of an interdisciplinary series designed to look at legal issues across the normal silos of scholarship. This volume thoughtfully examines the root causes of our growing toll of disaster damages following foreseeable events. The concept behind the book was conceived by a network of scholars following the Workshop on Disasters and Sociological studies put on by the International Institute for the Sociology of the Law.

The book is essentially a series of interconnected essays built around a theme from Greco-Roman mythology of the curse of Cassandra. Cassandra was a Trojan Princess, to whom the God Apollo granted a gift of always being able to correctly prophesy the future; yet, he later cursed her that her correct prophecies would never be believed.
The Disaster Risk Reduction community owes a tremendous debt to the authors and publisher for developing the concepts in thus book. Cassandra’s Curse serves as an excellent part of our foundation for constructing a path forward towards Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience.

Justin Pidot’s chapter focuses on diagnosing the many obstacles to Disaster Risk Reduction, including: a) our own mental limitations for dealing with low probability, high consequence events; b) the frequent thought that disasters are some sort of battle against Nature to be addressed as fight we need to win rather than a natural occurrence to which we need to adapt; and c) the economic and thus political obstacles to safer building and development practices. Professor Pidot does not, however, present a comprehensive solution to the impediments, but he and his co-authors do point us in some directions for a safer future through both morality and the law.

Brigham Young Law School Associate Professor Lisa Grow Sun and her co-authors Lloyd Burton and Sabrina McCormick brilliantly flesh out the concept that Cassandra’s Curse also seems to afflict those of us who warn of a toll of increasing disasters as more and more improperly designed and sited homes and businesses are located in areas subject to foreseeable natural events. Yet, the authors beautifully argue that society must believe the warnings and do a much better job of preparing to deal with more and more disastrous consequences as the climate changes. The authors clearly indicate the alternative to doing a better job or disaster planning, hazard mitigation and climate adaptation most likely will be an increasing incidence of litigation as disasters grow worse.

The book also weaves in an international perspective of how and why the tragedy of the Fukushima nuclear plant releases took place, as well as how Australia and the European Union, especially Spain, are somewhat successfully adapting to increased incidents of wildfire.

The Epilogue of this book would be much more useful a guide for further action had it clearly set forth the many causes and responsibilities for the problems of preparedness, response and recovery before, during and after Hurricane Katrina, rather than laying responsibility solely at the feet of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Ten full years prior to Hurricane Katrina making landfall, the myriad problems with federal, state and local plans and preparedness were made manifest during the multi-million dollar “Response 95” national exercise of a hurricane strike on New Orleans.

I hope that future researchers will use this book as a foundation for fuller explanation of why “The Powers That Be,” as the book calls decisionmakers, generally follow the demand of the public to live and work in hazardous locations. In addition, future research should focus much more on proposing comprehensive approaches to truly achieve Disaster Risk Reduction in the United States and throughout the world.

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