The Edge of a disaster is a scary and reassuring book written by Stephen Flynn. Flynn, a national security advisor/expert, puts the state of the U.S. security in black and white and puts it at the readers’ disposal. In this book, Flynn suggests that nine out of ten Americans live in high risk areas, and are exposed to various vulnerabilities; be it act of God or terrorist attack. According to Flynn, Americans are in denial when it comes to dealing with the vulnerable state of this nation to disaster. After all the disasters and terrorist attacks the country has faced in the past and the reaction that has been taken, America has not yet got to a point that its people can consider their lives safe. Flynn admits that nature is unpredictable, and that it is not always possible to prevent acts of terror at all times. Resiliency, he argues, should be adopted by all as our national motto.
With clarity and chilling frankness, Flynn paints a real scenario of the threats faced day by day within the American borders. Edge of a disaster is rich in ideas, in terms of analyzing the US security problems as well as in recommending solutions to those problems. In Boston Harbor for instance, a terrorist attack made using a tanker carrying liquefied gas could result in death of thousands and leave millions of more New Englanders with hardly any power or heat. In Long Beach, California, the destruction of a ship ferrying a cargo of oil could worsen the West Coast economy and render the surrounding population as endangered. Indeed, these terrorist scenarios are well too pale compared with the potential destruction a major hurricane, drought, or an earthquake would cause.
The book indicates that some of the vulnerabilities are as a result of some of the foundations that Americans and their leaders make, or were made by their forefathers. They take the infrastructure that was handed down to them by the earlier generations for granted. The infrastructure that was once an envy of the world is now crumbling. The effects of global warming is also a vulnerability facing Americans. The use of chemicals and other harmful substances that cause air pollution is putting the lives of Americans at a risk. Flynn’s argument is that security preparedness is connected to natural disaster preparedness.
America has not learnt much from the September 11 attacks and the Katrina. Every time a disaster strikes, all they do is over reacting. The book argues that the U.S. is spending too much money on fighting terrorism elsewhere, while little is being done on its homeland security. A black out resulting from overgrown trees that blocked the power lines put the bigger part of the country to a stand still for hours. Moreover, most acts of terror are local disasters.
The book concludes by issuing a wake-up call to all Americans demanding that they shake off their denial and their sense of helplessness and start preparing for a safer future. The book recommendation is that Americans must improve the resilience of their infrastructure. Pork, in Congress, is allocated according to political considerations. The country needs to set up an Infrastructure Resilience Commission that can better insure that societal resilience needs and national security weigh higher heavily than political factors. We need to protect ourselves from the worst at all times. Security affects everyone; therefore, all should participate in resilience. The biggest problem with the American system is that Americans have been left out from the equation of what we can do. Such important issues are mainly discussed by leaders behind closed doors.
The strengths of the book
The Edge of a Disaster highlights America’s vulnerability and clearly states both natural disasters such as earthquakes and man-made ones such as terrorism. Flynn gives the solutions to those vulnerabilities: resiliency within the U.S., not just conducting anti-terrorism activities overseas. He goes further by recommending how the solution can be accomplished. The book uses a hard-hitting, yet honest language to disclose the necessity of an overhaul of the U.S. way of dealing with disasters. Flynn uses straight forward, indisputable facts to assess the American security.
The book suggests how the public can be persuaded to support investment in resilience. It makes a strong case for greater spending on security within the U.S. Flynn insists that this can be achieved if the government by progresses the tax system (making the wealthier wage earners to pay more), reinstating the estate tax and increase the gas tax by one dollar a gallon, among other ways of raising funds to pay for better infrastructure. He recommends that a Resiliency Commission should be formed to ensure fair allocation of infrastructure funds based on societal needs rather than politics. The commission would not be bound to appeal to the Congress because it would serve as a public check on every new government spending, and this would restrict their ability to work behind the scenes negotiating the pork-barrel projects to take back to their individual home districts.
Even in a homeland security budget, political interests still play a role in shaping the voting behavior on various issues like grant funding. Nevertheless, the committees have adopted the norm of self restraining on earmarking which is different from the one in other appropriations accounts and bodes well with the investment strategies proposed in the book. This may be of great help in reinforcing these norms. It provides a clearly describes the peril that the nation faces and a good set of proposals addressing those dangers. It provides a unique roadmap to legislators to help strengthen the U.S.
The book advocates for massive investments in institutions that will develop infrastructure for resiliency. This is better said than done. It is common knowledge, and the book also appreciates this fact that most state and local governments are cash strapped and, therefore, unable to undertake such massive investments. The federal government is in no better position. A large part of its expenditure is borrowed and now the talk is about lifting the federal governments cap on borrowing to enable the government to borrow more. Therefore the noble ideas advocated by are just unworkable because there are no funds to undertake such projects.
The book can also be termed as idealistic. The ideas expounded are only sweet to the years, but their practicability is questionable. There is no way America can stay away from tackling terrorism in far off places and only concentrate on building home resiliency. Terrorism cannot be eliminated by investing at home. It is a threat many countries even in different circumstances have to live up with. The choice,therefore, is not whether to fight terrorism or not but of where the fight takes place. Americans can choose to stay here at home and wait for the terrorists to bring the war to them here as they did in September 11 or go out and take the war to the enemy like it is happening in Afghanistan. There is enough evidence that the policy of taking the war to the enemy has worked. The Al-Qaida has been weakened as at present by the fact that there has not occurred any terrorist attack in America since the global war on terrorism was launched.
The book also tries to compare America of today with the old America which is simply right. It is not that the America of the 50s and 60s was more prepared for disasters and security threats than the current America, but rather the Security challenges of the 21st century are very different from those of the 20th century. Technology has advanced, borders have been vanquished by advancement in technology and globalization while a change of climate has occurred over time that has increased the frequency of natural disasters. These are peculiar challenges in the 21st century that were not faced by previous generations.
The Edge of Disaster presents a topic that is not commonly addressed in or schools or elsewhere, though vital. It is up to all Americans to decide whether to make resiliency a national imperative. America has been spending too much on terrorism, yet terrorism is only one of the threats Americans face: global climate change, pandemics and natural disasters are still probable. While a healthy society should depend on an efficient, reliable and up-to-date infrastructure, living with an ailing one is tempting fate.
As far as we admit that natural disasters are unpredictable and catastrophes will hit anytime, we need to take action now, and look for ways to mitigate their impacts in future. We must, also, fund our first responders adequately. These include the fire and police departments and emergency responders; the people who help us when disasters strike. Building a resilient society will help us in protecting what is truly important.
The book should continue to be used in schools because it highlights the most crucial problems that affect the lives of most Americans. Students using this book will be well informed of the security past of America, what to improve and how. They will also learn how to predicate disasters, planning to mitigate them and how to respond to the situation when disaster strikes. I would also recommend the book to all other Americans, and people from other nations since the problems of security are almost the same all over.
The Edge of paradise is a must-read for all sentient beings, including politicians to awaken the endangered Americans. It is inspiring, informative, with straight forward facts and recommendations on matters of security. It is of uncountable high value.