The Dead Are Dead

If you buy no other book on disaster management and dealing with death and survival, then you cannot go past Collective Conviction, by Anne Eyre and Pamela Dix. It tells the story of Disaster Action, an organisation set up by family members after Britain’s “decade of disaster” to support, advocate, lobby, and change the way that the bereaved and survivors were treated in the aftermath of disaster.

Reading the book, some 25-30 years removed from the disasters described, I found myself shaking my head often, sometimes saying out loud “They really did that?” A coroner saying to families “They are my bodies” Yep, legally they are, but.. How disasters were dealt with were a mix of incompetence, bewilderment through to outright corruption, in the case of the Hillsborough disaster. This was the 80s, as Ulrich Beck’s risk society was in full swing, someone else does it, someone else is to blame. The families would have none of this, and as a varying action and support groups came together, Disaster Action was born.

It is an angry book. Not in the sense of the tone, which is beautifully clear and concise. You sense the anger and frustration, and disappointment and sadness and sense of justice that Disaster Action is built on. And the desire that others shouldn’t have to experience it. They have been accused of being vindictive, wanting their day in court, But want they want is justice, and for people to be held accountable. If someone can be sent to jail for like for killing someone on the street, why is that if someone didn’t close the ferry doors, or cut budgets for maintenance for train brakes get a slap on the wrist for killing hundreds? As unfathomable situations are relayed, in this clear manner, you are left wondering. How could people treat others like that?

I’ve met Anne Eyre a couple of times, and we correspond on and off, posing questions to each other about various EM things, exchanging banter about football (well no longer, as my team Portsmouth has fallen from EPL grace into League 2) and the cricket. She’s delightful and  a bit of a rock star around our office. People come back from meeting her with selfies with her. As an academic and a practitioner, she’s driven to ensure those entering the industry have the best practice, based on the best evidence. It is an example of amazing Post Traumatic Growth.

While it is the story of Disaster Action, it is much more than that. It should be used as a manual or a guide. In fact the public guidance literature is all included as appendices It should be required reading for probationary police, social workers, law students, policy makers, emergency managers, and a copy should be given to each head of emergency management agency, and their minister. This is why it is such an important book.


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