The Ohio State team produced a number of reports and helped influence the nascent study of humans and disaster. But the lessons of the Alaska quake tend to be forgotten when the world turns scary. In case after case, officials have reverted to the traditional view: that the civilian populace is not to be trusted in an emergency. Not surprisingly, this tendency towards elite panic is itself one of the key stumbling blocks to coping with disasters.
We certainly see it in the response to the coronavirus pandemic. From the first appearance of the virus in the United States, officials at the federal level, including the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, tried to maintain tight control over the fight against the new disease. Undoubtedly, individual staffers at those institutions are deeply committed to public health. But those agencies’ policies implied that independent medical organizations shouldn’t be allowed to make major decisions about the coming pandemic.