Why we are never prepared for a crisis

From 2005 Sri Lanka has been well prepared for a tsunami, unfortunately it was entirely unprepared in 2004. From 2021 onwards I have do doubt that the world will we well prepared to deal with a pandemic. We are always ready to fight the last war..

In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic we cannot claim it was unforeseen. Many people had warned of it, pandemics have occurred before and it was inevitable others would in the future. It was no black swan event.

There were tsunami warning systems, and people knew the 2004 tsunami was heading towards South Asia, but no one had given any thought to how to pass warnings to countries outside those involved in the warning system, and while they dithered, people died.

We will now be well prepared for a viral pandemic for the next few decades but there might not be another this serious for a century. Will we really stay prepared for that long?

In the meantime there are other things that may happen, and dealing with one disaster does not make us any better prepared for another. How well are we prepared for another Carrington Event, event for example? Very few people have even head of it, as a solar storm did little damage in 1859 so it was not a disaster then, but it would be one now, knocking out electricity, telecommunications, positioning systems like GPS, and a lot more. This is despite a near miss in 2012 which should have acted as a wake-up call.

Many of the changes in response to COVID are actually making us more vulnerable solar storms and the like. More working from home, greater use of electronic payments, more online shopping, and the general reliance on electronics which will simply stop working.

When we do successfully anticipate and prevent a disaster, many people regard it as a non-event – take the millennium bug, for example. Many people say “nothing happened, so it was a pointless scare”. Nothing happened because it was dealt with.

There are many other disasters we are unprepared for. Meteoroid strikes sound like something out of science fiction or prehistory, so they get filed as “not real”. They are real, and have occurred not much longer ago than the last killer pandemic. The Tunguska Event happened in Siberia in 1908, so, although it destroyed many tens of millions of trees, it did not kill many people. That was luck, it could just as easily have hit a densely populated area.

In Arthur C Clarke’s book 2001, a meteoroid defense system was built after Venice was destroyed by one. Sadly, that is probably what it will take to persuade humanity to prepare for it. In the meantime we are doing very little.

Space weather is on the UK’s “National Risk Register Of Civil Emergencies” but without public discussion and scrutiny it is impossible to know what, if anything, is being done to help us cope. There are no serious plans anywhere to deal with meteoroids, not even real warning systems. These are threats far worse than COVID – they really could be the end of the world, or at least civilization and most human life – but lets “cross that bridge when we get to it”, and its far too late.