Cautionary Tales – That Turn to Pascagoula

10th July, 2020

For years, people had warned that New Orleans was vulnerable – but when a hurricane came close to destroying the city, the reaction was muted. Some people took the near miss as a warning – others, as confirmation that there was nothing to worry about.

So why do we struggle to prepare for disasters? And why don’t we draw the obvious lessons from clear warnings?

Written by Tim Harford with Andrew Wright. Producers: Ryan Dilley with Marilyn Rust. Sound design/mix/musical composition: Pascal Wyse. Editor: Julia Barton. Publicity: Christine Ragasa.

Thanks to the team at Pushkin Industries, Heather Fain, Maya Koenig, Mia Lobel, Carly Migliori, Jacob Weisberg, and of course, the mighty Malcolm Gladwell.

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Further reading and listening

I first read about Hurricane Ivan in The Ostrich Paradox by Howard Kunreuther and Robert Meyer, and other forebodings of disaster are recounted in Predictable Surprises by Max Bazerman and Michael Watkins.

The story of Meaher Patrick Turner is vividly told by Amanda Ripley in The Unthinkable. All three books are strongly recommended.

Here is Meaher Patrick Turner’s obituary.

Warnings of disaster in the Houston Chronicle, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, and USA Today.

California’s stockpile was covered in the Los Angeles Times, and the UK’s pandemic preparation by New Statesman and Tortoise Media.

Margaret Heffernan’s Willful Blindness discusses the problems with the post-Katrina pumps, as did The Guardian.

This podcast was based on ideas I first worked through for the Financial Times Magazine in a piece titled Why We Fail To Prepare For Disasters.

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