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Managing Complex Emergencies in Complex Times – Lessons from Japan

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Fukushima_I_NPP_1975-1024x1024.jpg
Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant 1975. Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Japan

By Andrea Rezzonico

Anticipating and preparing for complex and simultaneous emergencies is critical as we move further into the 21st century. The coming decades will be characterized by significant disruptors including climate change, biological hazards, natural disasters, rapid technological change, growing geopolitical tensions, an increase in fragile states, and persistent economic shocks. These issues will not exist independently of each other – they will intersect and very possibly lead to cascading effects that strain entire systems. 

Over the last several years, the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) has investigated this rising convergence of security risks, breaking down silos, pulling threads through previously unlinked issue sets, and establishing pathways along the way. This work, as well as lessons from the extraordinarily destabilizing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has underscored that current emergency preparedness programs do not sufficiently consider how crises can overlap in time or cascade from one into another. A particularly harrowing example of this was Japan’s horrific Triple Disaster of 2011. The event serves as a warning, but Japan’s actions since then also serve as a potential model for the world on managing complex crises, including the one we’re in at the moment. Japan learned (and is arguably still learning) from the crisis, and so can we.  

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