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

Gill Kernick

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eBook - ePub

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

Gill Kernick

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About This Book

The Grenfell Tower tragedy was the worst residential fire in London since World War II. It killed seventy-two people in the richest borough of one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Like other catastrophic events before it and since, it has the power to bring about lasting change. But will it? The historical evidence is weighed against 'lessons being learned' in a meaningful or enduring way. In an attempt to understand why, despite enormous efforts, we persistently fail to learn from catastrophic events, this book uses the details of the Grenfell fire as a case study to consider why we don't learn and what it would take to enable real systemic change. The book explores the myths, the key challenges and the conditions that inhibit learning, and it identifies opportunities to positively disrupt the status quo. It offers an accessible model for systemic change, not as a definitive solution but rather as a framework to evoke reflection, enquiry and proper debate. Catastrophe and Systemic Change is a must-read book for a wide range of readers including those interested in change management, leadership, policy-making, law, housing, construction and public safety.

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Catastrophe and
Systemic Change
Learning from the Grenfell Tower Fire
and Other Disasters
Gill Kernick
To the 72 souls lost in the Grenfell Tower Fire, including my former neighbours from the twenty-first floor:
Abdulaziz El Wahabi (52)
Faouzia El Wahabi (42)
Yasin El Wahabi (20)
Nur Huda El Wahabi (15)
Mehdi El Wahabi (8)
Logan Isaac Gomes (stillborn at seven months)
Ligaya Moore (78)
And to my beloved father
Louis Auret Kernick
(7 August 1930–24 June 2017)
Introduction: the book I wish I’d never had to write
We used to play in the hallways because it was pretty big. We had a nice little group on that floor.
Lulya, 12, survivor from the twenty-first floor of Grenfell Tower1
It was like a burnt matchbox in the sky.
It was black and long and burnt in the sky.
Ben Okri, Grenfell Tower, June 20172
Why this book?
I lived on the twenty-first floor of Grenfell Tower from 2011 to 2014. On 14 June 2017, seven of my former neighbours died in the fire. This book is dedicated to them.
But my interest in Grenfell is not only personal. Professionally I work in high-hazard industries, partnering with organizations to build their leadership capabilities and culture in order to prevent catastrophic events. As I watched the tower burn, I promised to ensure that we learned – to make those lost lives count in some way.
In the immediate aftermath I was hopeful.
Catastrophic events have the power to be disruptive and bring about lasting change. I worked in the oil and gas industry in the aftermath of the explosions at the Texas City refinery (2005; fifteen deaths) and the Gulf of Mexico Macondo well (2010; eleven deaths and the industry’s biggest ever environmental disaster). I travelled the world – from Australia to Algeria, from Jakarta to Oman – delivering training to help embed the cultural and leadership lessons from those tragedies. I have spent my career working with people who are courageous enough to look at themselves in the mirror and confront their own failings as leaders. I’ve heard too many stories of loss, of pain. And I’ve witnessed what is possible when people come together, authentically, willing to show their vulnerability and to learn and build robust cultures, in order to prevent more suffering.
I therefore naively imagined that the worst residential fire in London since World War II – a fire that killed seventy-two people in the UK’s richest borough – would engender a desire to learn and change.
I was wrong.
I went from being hopeful, to discovering there had been multiple failed opportunities to learn, to realizing that, far from being an isolated ‘bad building’, Grenfell revealed systemic failures in building safety and construction across the country, leaving thousands of people living in unsafe homes.
History predict...

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