Summary of How to Prepare for a “Megadisaster”

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How to Prepare for a “Megadisaster” summary

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Either the natural world or prolonged human activity can cause megadisasters, the kinds of calamities that have emerged throughout history, from Pompeii to the plague that devastated Europe’s population in the Middle Ages. Megadisasters affect entire societies and change history. Globalization and climate change mean that human activities help generate more megadisasters, from extreme weather to pandemics. In Kevin Krajick and David J. Craig’s Columbia magazine interview, Jeffrey Schlegelmilch, author of Rethinking Readiness, explains why people must learn how to prevent megadisasters and how to prepare for them.

About the Authors

Kevin Krajick is the Earth Institute’s senior editor for science news. David J. Craig edits the Explorations and Bulletin sections of Columbia magazine and writes about social science and the natural sciences.


COVID-19 is a preventable megadisaster.

Megadisasters are disasters, whether natural or created by humans, that transform the societies in which they occur. Such disasters inundate and destroy the methods people devised to respond to them. For example, in the Middle Ages, the bubonic plague annihilated more than a quarter of Europe’s population and forced permanent societal changes.

Even before COVID-19 spread, international experts warned that the nations of the world had failed to provide the means to detect and control novel infectious diseases. They pointed out that most countries lack the health care equipment necessary to respond to a major pandemic. In the end, like other megadisasters, COVID-19 will affect societies in an enduring, long-term way. Though foresight and a disciplined response could have prevented the pandemic’s spread, people still have time to soften its lasting impact.

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