Photo by Leif Skoogfors/FEMA
Hurricane Katrina killed 1,836 people in August 2005, cost over $80 billion in damage, and flooded 80 percent of the city. Yet analysis — the Hurricane
Pam simulation — had revealed the dangers in July 2004.
Crisis! The Urgent Need for Learning
By MARK CHUSSIL & PEDRO C. RIBEIRO
Before three months had ended in 2008, 23,500 people had become infected with dengue fever in Rio de Janeiro. Thirty
had died. Chaos set in, exacerbated by conflicting messages from public officials.
The surge in dengue fever overwhelmed
hospitals, causing disruption in medical
care and administrative disarray. During
the week of April 1, the military had to
intervene in the worst-hit areas of Rio by
setting up tents with emergency hospital
As of April 3, 2008, the epidemic had
infected 55,000 people. Deaths totaled 67.
Nearly half were children younger than 13.
The dengue outbreak was blamed
on several factors. Critically important, though, is that it was not a surprise.
Everybody knew it could come. Yet despite
44 DISASTER RECOVERY JOURNAL FALL 2009
that knowledge, the cost in lives, suffering, public funds, and public confidence
was greater than it had to be. As President
Lula said, “all levels of government have
mishandled the crisis.” But how can that
happen when everybody knows the danger
and the stakes are so high?
The Urgent Need for Learning
Developing countries are not the only
ones mismanaging crises. New Orleans,
in the United States, is located in an area
highly vulnerable to hurricanes, and analysis had shown that the city’s flood protection was inadequate. Hurricane Katrina
killed 1,836 people in August 2005, cost
over $80 billion in damage, and flooded
80 percent of the city. Yet analysis — the
Hurricane Pam simulation — had revealed
the dangers in July 2004.
A massive increase in natural disasters
is expected due to global warming. As an
example, the flooding in Brazil’s Santa
Catarina state in 2008 left at least 50 dead
and more than 20,000 homeless. The rain-fueled flooding in southern Brazil affected
1. 5 million residents and cut off five cities
from the rest of the nation. Of course it’s
impossible to say that a given disaster is (or
is not) the result of global warming. Then
again, it’s not likely that global warming
is going to make the earth a calmer and
According to a study by the World
Economic Forum, levels of risk are rising
globally. People cannot prevent hurricanes, floods, flu, or mosquitoes. That
makes good preparedness that much more
important and the inadequacy of current
preparedness, in business and govern-