An expert in disaster management explains her specialty.
As a fiercely public-spirited teenager, Montano, who teaches emergency management at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, joined volunteers pouring into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Although numerous writers have described the misery that she witnessed there, readers will encounter a few jolts. However, some may be surprised to learn that, more than 15 years later, volunteers still travel to New Orleans to work; although commercial and wealthy areas are up and running, poor, largely Black neighborhoods remain blighted. The experience inspired Montano to obtain an advanced degree in disaster management, and she delivers plenty of insights into 21st-century catastrophes. She writes that while Hollywood disasters happen fast, “every disaster you have yet to experience in your lifetime has already begun. The threads of risk are spun out over decades, even centuries, until they crescendo into disaster.” In the past decade, we have experienced record-strength hurricanes, forest fires, and floods. These follow from the burning of fossil fuels, so climate change is far from a future problem. Like countless scientists before her, she notes that “it’s not a question of if we will experience the consequences of climate change, but rather how bad it will be.” The author offers lucid accounts of how people respond to disasters (they rarely panic—Hollywood gets it wrong again—but rush to help) and how expert disaster management can mitigate future disasters, relieve suffering when they happen, and manage future recovery. Although Katrina is center stage, Montano illustrates her points with other disasters, most of which received inadequate responses. Hurricane Maria, which ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017, was far more damaging than Katrina, and government response was slower. It’s hardly news that the Covid-19 pandemic was handled poorly, but Montano contributes more disheartening details. Most books on disaster end with hope, but the author will have none of it. She exhorts readers to take action but doesn’t claim to see light at the end of the tunnel.
Painful but essential reading.