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Charles Perrow described the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear reactor meltdown as a Normal Accident. Normal accidents are a class of events produced when subsystems in risky, complex and tightly coupled systems fail. Tight linkages between subsystems propagate failure, and local breakdowns cascade into systemic collapse. Diane Vaughn applied the normal accident metaphor to the 1986 Challenger Disaster.
Compared to natural disasters—hurricanes, tornadoes, floods—pandemics are comparatively rare. British sociologist Phil Strong (1990) was one of the few to study pandemics. He developed a framework based on accounts of pandemics back to the Black Death in 14th century Europe. Pandemics represented moments of transparency in the social order. All sorts of institutions, relationships, and interactions suddenly became problematic. The taken-for-granted assumptions of everyday life were exposed and became uncertain and questionable.