How to Avoid “Stupid” Catastrophe

Juliette Kayyem, who labored in counterterrorism earlier than turning to a profession in emergency administration, makes a distinction amongst disaster, catastrophe, and disaster. In case it isn’t already clear, we live in an period of catastrophes—occasions that function important, preventable destruction, struggling, or loss of life. Louisianans didn’t think about surviving Hurricane Laura solely to activate their mills and die of carbon-monoxide poisoning. Disease and a scarcity of fresh water shouldn’t have killed tens of 1000’s of individuals within the weeks after the 2004 tsunami within the Indian Ocean.

In Kayyem’s subject, most of these losses are referred to as “stupid” or oblique deaths, as a result of they didn’t need to occur. Her new e book, “The Devil Never Sleeps,” whose title derives from one thing {that a} twister survivor as soon as advised her, explores the facility of planning for the unthinkable and the futility of anticipating a trouble-free existence. We can’t cease the earthquake or the tsunami, however by figuring out gaps in preparedness and enhancing our responses we could mitigate the results. “Less bad is our twenty-first-century standard,” Kayyem writes. Or, as she put it after we met final week for lunch, “We have to get better at failing safer.”

Kayyem, who directs the Homeland Security Project and the Security and Global Health Project at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, had pushed to New York to see her writer. She arrived at Chama Mama, a Georgian restaurant on the Upper West Side, lamenting that she had introduced largely springlike clothes for what turned out to be an unusually blustery, frigid day. Never thoughts—she carries an additional coat in her automotive, together with a glass-breaking device, in case a bridge collapses. (“Everyone gets one irrational fear.”) She advised me, “I live by a weird motto. I do not want my last words to be ‘I’m such an idiot.’ ”

A pot of mint tea arrived. Kayyem had been excited about the right way to convey her e book succinctly. The time period “prepper” doesn’t seem—no stockpiles of beans in a bunker—however the e book is in some ways a paean to the artwork of fine preparation. “All the drama in the world tends to result in the same eight lessons,” she advised me. The key to staying out of hassle, and responding to it, is to anticipate that “anything can happen.” Sony did not image itself because the goal of a large cyberattack; Boeing ought to have higher educated its pilots on the 737 MAX’s working system. Drivers ought to journey ready for blizzards. Kayyem writes, “We are all crisis managers now: at home, at work, in the world.”

I requested her whether or not there was a line between preparedness and paranoia. She thought of it for a minute and replied, “Paranoia is the pursuit of perfection.” There isn’t any excellent preparation and no excellent response. She prefers to ask, “What’s gonna get me eighty per cent of the way there?” In a disaster, it’s a must to transfer. “I try to take emotions out of all of it,” she stated. “I’m very operational.”

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Kayyem graduated from Harvard Law School in 1995, the yr that Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, in Oklahoma City, killing 100 and sixty-eight individuals and injuring a whole bunch of others. Kayyem later described that surprising occasion as a part of a “slow awakening” to “our vulnerabilities at home.” She went to work as a civil-rights legal professional within the Justice Department and shortly grew to become an adviser to the Attorney General, Janet Reno. In 2009, then President Barack Obama appointed Kayyem as an Assistant Secretary of the comparatively new Department of Homeland Security, the place she oversaw her counterparts within the fifty states.

In 2013, Kayyem’s columns for the Boston Globe had been named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. In a number of of the items, she urged the Pentagon to carry its ban on ladies serving on the entrance traces in fight; the Defense Department quickly did so. Kayyem got here to wider public consideration that yr, after talking authoritatively, on nationwide tv, in regards to the Boston Marathon bombing: as Massachusetts’s former undersecretary of homeland safety, she had helped design and implement protocols that went into place moments after the blasts. In “Security Mom,” a memoir printed in 2016, she wrote that the nation wanted to “redesign how we pay for disasters,” urging “proactivity instead of reactivity,” an idea reiterated—and expounded upon—in “The Devil Never Sleeps.”

On CNN, Kayyem contextualizes breaking information as an on-air national-security analyst. She does the identical on Twitter, for an viewers of greater than 2 hundred thousand, leavening troublesome messages with upbeat tweets about browsing, operating, and the household canine. Kayyem unequivocally framed the assault on the U.S. Capitol as home terrorism. Early in the coronavirus pandemic, she was amongst those that urged a shutdown of public areas, and final yr she wrote, in The Atlantic, that “a no-fly list for unvaccinated adults is an obvious step that the federal government should take.” In the identical article, she noticed—not with out backlash—that “vaccinated people should no longer carry the burden” for individuals who had chosen to forgo vaccination.

Scary stuff, delivered scarily, would nearly actually overwhelm the message. In “The Devil Never Sleeps,” Kayyem takes a relatable and, at occasions, nearly playful method. (“Zombie studies are a real thing.”) Subheadings embody “What’s in Those Tacos?” and “It Snows in Texas.” She buoys what may in any other case seem like a darkish world view by assuring readers of their very own company. The authorities, firm, neighborhood, or particular person who foresees hassle and is aware of even the fundamentals of the right way to reply could higher handle or survive it—and assist others do the identical.

As the buddy and relative who nags others about situational consciousness and distributes well-packed go-bags, I could also be Kayyem’s born reader. A devotee of “all-hazards planning,” she presents a spread of case research for what went each fallacious and proper. Her e book accommodates surprisingly optimistic revelations a couple of nuclear facility close to Fukushima that survived a tsunami with out leaking radiation, and the Ever Given, the cargo ship that obtained caught within the Suez Canal. (The provide chain saved shifting, regardless of the blockage of a significant international waterway.) Kayyem advised me, “The story that’s neglected is that an industry was able to shift.”

The evening earlier than we met, Will Smith slapped Chris Rock onstage on the Oscars. Afterward, Denzel Washington slid over to Smith and advised him, “At your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.” Kayyem was watching and tweeting. But she resisted the plain tie-in to the title of her e book. She had lately drawn fireplace for tweeting that public-safety officers ought to slash the tires of the trucker convoy impeding commerce between the U.S. and Canada. She advised me, “I have strong feelings about reproductive rights, I have strong feelings about the Academy Awards, but I stay in my lane.” She averted hassle, tweeting, “I’m choosing to focus on the great news that @questlove just won an #Oscars for #SummerOfSoul.”

In 2019, Kayyem was pressured to answer what some may contemplate a spot in her personal consciousness. That September, she accepted a short-term consulting place with NSO Group, the Israeli know-how firm whose Pegasus spyware and adware has been used to surveil journalists and human-rights staff. Various publications have reported that NSO software program was discovered within the hacked telephones of individuals near the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who had been murdered inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, in 2018. NSO has denied that its instruments had been used to observe Khashoggi, who lived in Virginia, and contributed to the Washington Post’s opinion pages.

When the Post employed Kayyem to put in writing for those self same opinion pages, her NSO consultancy grew to become some extent of rivalry. Kayyem advised me that she had supplied “full disclosure” to the newspaper; she however voluntarily backed away from the supply—and finally left NSO Group. Yet the affiliation lingered. In early 2020, Harvard’s Shorenstein Center invited Kayyem to talk at a Webinar about how feminine journalists may defend themselves bodily and nearly. A staffer on the Committee to Protect Journalists tweeted that the scheduled look was like inviting a “coal executive to talk about renewable energy.” The occasion was cancelled.

Until we talked, Kayyem had not publicly addressed her work for NSO Group besides to tweet, in a ready assertion, that she believed that she may assist insure that the corporate’s merchandise can be “used appropriately.” She famous, “There is a critical role for cyber technology in the fight against terrorism, child sexual predators and other serious crime,” and “I still believe reasonable people can disagree on issues of our security and rights.”

When I requested Kayyem about this, she referred to as her affiliation with NSO Group “a miscalculation.” She stated that she was introduced in to assist implement “structural reforms.” Two different high-profile advisers, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, and Gérard Araud, France’s former Ambassador to the United States, had been employed on the identical time. Kayyem advised me that she labored with the corporate’s authorized group: “I never had any operational oversight. I never knew who their clients were.” She stated that she “fell on the wrong side of an understandable sentiment about what this group was.” In “The Devil Never Sleeps,” this type of response is called a “managed retreat.”

Kayyem doesn’t point out NSO Group in her e book. She describes the Department of Homeland Security solely as a “behemoth whose capabilities and competencies have often been under scrutiny.” Readers may need benefitted from insights into each. Instead, she roundly prescribes vigilance within the face of consultants’ false assurances. At lunch, she stated, “Lots of people are getting very, very rich by convincing you the devil is not coming.” She talked about, not by title, former navy generals now working in private-sector safety jobs, and lamented a prevailing perspective: “If you just buy enough stuff and get enough wise men, you, too, will be fine.”

Kayyem frames devastating occasions by way of a horizontal timeline. At the middle is “the boom”—the terrible factor that has occurred or could occur. “Left of boom” refers to precipitating actions or inactions—say, NASA’s failure to heed the warning of the contractor who appropriately predicted that the area shuttle Challenger’s now notorious O-ring wouldn’t maintain. (Everyone on board died when the shuttle exploded, in 1986.) “Right of boom” refers to how entities reply within the wake of the crash, flood, fireplace, mass capturing, cyberattack, bombing, pandemic. In class, Kayyem asks her college students to consider how they’d spend 100 pennies of safety funding. She makes use of the train as an instance how typically we create “glaring and indefensible gaps” by investing an excessive amount of on the left, too little on the appropriate, or generally vice versa.

If the idea of sustained preparedness feels like a miserable method to stay, it could assist to think about it, slightly, as tactical. This might be carried out on the private stage. In the occasion of hassle, what’s your plan? Do you’ve gotten water? Fresh batteries? Is there fuel within the automotive? Where are your drugs? What in regards to the canine? Kayyem writes, “It may seem I am asking for overreaction, 24-7. But that is only a criticism if one sees overreaction as a bad response.” Underreacting can flip an emergency “into a calamity.”

In “The Devil Never Sleeps,” Kayyem leaves the reader with the concept we should be taught from historical past (“An important lesson from the tragedy of Columbine is that we taught our children to run”) whereas understanding the significance of revision (“Formal active shooter drills are less beneficial than once thought. The trauma to students, especially younger ones, outweighs any benefit they may gain”). Living “more confidently in anticipation” of probably catastrophic occasions requires “nurturing our immediate responses again and again and again.” She famous that the 2020 hurricane season introduced an unprecedented thirty named storms, and wrote, “Mostly, we need to stop being surprised.”

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