The best books to expand your thinking on disaster risk management

Damon P. Coppola Author Of Introduction to International Disaster Management
By Damon P. Coppola

Who am I?

As a professional emergency and risk management practitioner, I’ve spent my career supporting and shaping emergency management policy and practice in every context from the village to global levels. What I’ve found to be most rewarding are those opportunities where I’ve been able to translate this knowledge and practice into training the next generation of emergency managers. The textbooks I’ve written, which include the first comprehensive book on emergency management (Introduction to Emergency Management, currently in its 7th edition) and the first book on homeland security in the United States (Introduction to Homeland Security, currently in its 6th Edition), are currently in use at hundreds of universities worldwide.

I wrote...

Introduction to International Disaster Management

By Damon P. Coppola,

Book cover of Introduction to International Disaster Management

What is my book about?

Introduction to International Disaster Management, Fourth Edition, offers an unbiased, global perspective for both students and practitioners. It provides a comprehensive understanding of the disaster management profession, covering the varied sources of risk and vulnerability, the systems that exist to manage hazard risk, and the many different stakeholders involved, from individuals to global organizations. This text also serves as a reference on scores of disaster management topics, including various technological and intentional hazards, on international disaster management structures and systems, on global humanitarian spending and support, and much more. Taking a real-world approach with considerable illustration through case studies and recent and historical disaster events, this book prepares students interested in joining the disaster management community to understand the work they will be doing.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Why this book?

This book isn’t standard in any disaster risk management curriculum, but it should be.

Risk communication is perhaps the most challenging part of what we do as disaster risk managers, and this book offers several unique gems. This book was written for advertisers, but we have to remember that risk communication is, at its core, a ‘marketing’ effort focused on influencing human behavior.

This book explains how people process the information they receive in unexpected ways and provides several methods (and tricks) that risk communication professionals can use to make their risk communication more effective.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

By Robert B. Cialdini,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked Influence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The foundational and wildly popular go-to resource for influence and persuasion-a renowned international bestseller, with over 5 million copies sold-now revised adding: new research, new insights, new examples, and online applications.

In the new edition of this highly acclaimed bestseller, Robert Cialdini-New York Times bestselling author of Pre-Suasion and the seminal expert in the fields of influence and persuasion-explains the psychology of why people say yes and how to apply these insights ethically in business and everyday settings. Using memorable stories and relatable examples, Cialdini makes this crucially important subject surprisingly easy. With Cialdini as a guide, you don't have…

Book cover of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Why this book?

The ‘zombie apocalypse’ scenario has been used for years by risk management professionals to make the examination of possible societal breakdowns more fun and/or interesting.

By focusing on a hazard people know, like hurricanes or wildfires, audiences come to the discussion with pre-existing biases and, in many cases, first-hand experience. This forces the communicator to counter such bias before getting to key messages.

There’s never been an actual zombie apocalypse (nor is there likely to ever be one…), which means the zombie scenario adequately ‘levels the field’. It forces audiences to think beyond their go-to assumptions and introduces levels of uncertainty and unknown that are typical of major disasters.

This book, written without obvious heroes and heroines, in a documentary style, makes a perfect proxy for a disaster exercise scenario. I also believe it does a great job illustrating how different forms of governance result in different response strategies, which is something we saw play out in stark fashion during the COVID pandemic. 

When it comes to conversation starters about disaster risk management, there’s no better book than this one to do that.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

By Max Brooks,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked World War Z as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It began with rumours from China about another pandemic. Then the cases started to multiply and what had looked like the stirrings of a criminal underclass, even the beginning of a revolution, soon revealed itself to be much, much worse.

Faced with a future of mindless man-eating horror, humanity was forced to accept the logic of world government and face events that tested our sanity and our sense of reality. Based on extensive interviews with survivors and key players in the ten-year fight against the horde, World War Z brings the finest traditions of journalism to bear on what is…

Book cover of Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes

Why this book?

We’ve all felt like a Cassandra at times, imploring people to see the obvious disaster to come - only to be ignored.

And even when that disaster as predicted materializes, we are rarely credited for having successfully seen what others could not so easily imagine. That said, for every accurate prediction, there are dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands of predictions that prove false.

As risk managers, our job is to reduce uncertainty by predicting the future as accurately as possible. So how do we sift through the chatter and find the most accurate warnings?

This book, written by former national security experts, offers an interesting methodology that can help us do that.  

Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes

By Richard A Clarke, R P Eddy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Warnings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why

Why this book?

This is the obvious recommendation, but a ‘must read’ nonetheless. 

Whereas Cialdini’s text focuses on our response to messaging (on risk or otherwise), Ripley’s book focuses on our response to the incident itself (…and so where the former leaves off, the latter picks up).

The Unthinkable gives readers a deep look into our own psyche to prepare us for how we are likely to response when faced with physical or mortal danger. Nobody knows exactly how they will respond in a high-hazard incident because so many instinctual processes take over.

But as Ripley so effectively explains, it is possible to know what these phenomena look like so that when we are experiencing them we can adjust accordingly to be more effective responders.

Amanda Ripley’s approachable journalistic style effectively turns a collection of meaningful risk management messages into a hard-to-put-down page-turner. 

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why

By Amanda Ripley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Unthinkable as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Have you ever wondered how you would react to a disaster? Do you think you would be paralysed with fear, like the diplomat who froze, drink still in hand, as terrorists invaded the Dominican Republic's embassy in Colombia in 1980? Or might you find yourself pretending it hadn't happened, like the 9/11 survivor whose first instinct on feeling the shockwaves of the plane crashing into her building was to stay put? Or then again might you suddenly find hidden strengths in yourself, like Joe Stiley, who not only escaped from a dreadful plane wreck, but also managed to survive thirty…

Book cover of Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies

Why this book?

This is an older text, but a good one nonetheless.

Normal Accidents highlights the complexity behind major disasters. In the hours, days, and even years leading up to any major incident, there are often multiple opportunities to reduce the negative impacts or even avoid them altogether.

Focusing on technological hazards, Perrow highlights the fact that major incidents are rarely the result of a single point of failure. As risk managers, we need to understand the compounding nature of risk, and this book brings that lesson to life. 

Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies

By Charles Perrow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Normal Accidents as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Normal Accidents analyzes the social side of technological risk. Charles Perrow argues that the conventional engineering approach to ensuring safety--building in more warnings and safeguards--fails because systems complexity makes failures inevitable. He asserts that typical precautions, by adding to complexity, may help create new categories of accidents. (At Chernobyl, tests of a new safety system helped produce the meltdown and subsequent fire.) By recognizing two dimensions of risk--complex versus linear interactions, and tight versus loose coupling--this book provides a powerful framework for analyzing risks and the organizations that insist we run them. The first edition fulfilled one reviewer's prediction that…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in risk management, technology, and persuasion?

8,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about risk management, technology, and persuasion.

Risk Management Explore 14 books about risk management
Technology Explore 81 books about technology
Persuasion Explore 21 books about persuasion

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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