BOOK: Catastrophe and Systemic Change: Learning from the Grenfell Tower Fire and other Disasters

Catastrophe and Systemic Change: Learning from the Grenfell Tower Fire and other Disasters
Gill Kernick, London Publishing Partnership, 2021

The Grenfell Tower tragedy was the worst residential fire in London since World War II, killing 72 people in one of the world’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. Surely, then, lessons will be learned from it, and lasting change implemented. Unfortunately, as history tells us, the evidence is weighed against this outcome – indeed, four years after Grenfell, the UK’s cladding issue remains unresolved, putting the lives of thousands at risk and on hold.

This book seeks to understand why there is a persistent failure to learn from catastrophic events. Published near the anniversary of the tragedy, Catastrophe and Systemic Change: Learning from the Grenfell Tower Fire and other Disasters lays out the many failings that led to the deadly inferno.

This powerful book examines the challenges and conditions that inhibit learning, with the goal of finding opportunities to disrupt the status quo.

Author Gill Kernick is an internationally experienced strategic consultant specialising in safety, culture and leadership. She also lived on the twenty-first floor of Grenfell Tower between 2011 and 2014.

In this book, Kernick offers an accessible model for systemic change in the form of a framework to evoke reflection, enquiry and debate.

The book is organised into two parts: the first focusing on the Grenfell Tower fire itself, the second dedicated to analysis and reflection – seeking to understand why our failure to learn makes sense by exploring the reasons why, and asking what it would take to enable real systemic change.

Subsequent chapters explore the issues of catastrophe and systemic change through a number of different ‘lenses’, among them behavioural and relational elements. The author shares stories of other catastrophic events, considers some widely-held myths, reflects on insights from Grenfell, proposes the conditions that prevent change, and looks at the key opportunities to positively disrupt the status quo.

In praise of Catastrophe and Systemic Change, Her Honour Frances Kirkham CBE (coroner in the Lakanal House inquests) points out that learning from catastrophic events to drive necessary change should happen in every area where public safety is a fundamental requirement, as, for example, in the provision of housing.

“It is scandalous that there is widespread and fundamental failure to apply any lessons learned,” she says. “Read this book to understand the interplay between those at the top and those at the bottom of the power ladder, and understand how we all can, and should, influence decision and policy makers to facilitate and achieve the changes which are so needed.”

This book will be essential reading for those interested in change management, leadership, policymaking, law, housing, construction and public safety and politics.

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