Shaking the dust off a Cinderella service

In the world of the emergency services, the planners are the Cinderella service, working hard behind the scenes, often unrecognised for their contribution. Professor Lucy Easthope’s new book brings them out of the shadows and places them firmly into the spotlight in her new book, When the Dust Settles.

Strictly speaking, her book is not just about emergency planning but about disaster response. She calls herself a ‘disasterologist’: she is a rare breed with a pedigree developed over twenty years exposure to major incidents in the UK and around the world. She is the UK’s leading authority on recovering from disaster.

“This is a book about catastrophic events and frail bodies and loss and bereavement,” she tells us early on. She writes about her experience in terms that are so personal and yet accessible, it is impossible not to like Easthope. Her warmth and humanity shine through every page in this book.


Trained initially as a lawyer, Easthope knew that she would never practice; she wanted to know about the law to provide a foundation for what might happen and why. Easthope is an academic now, but early in her career she worked for Kenyon, a private company specialising in disaster response services. There she honed her craft, planning, training, exercising and responding to crises in many countries. Her book, part memoir, part instruction manual, is peppered with her experience.

Easthope’s career provides a useful timeline for the development of disaster victim identification, and it is a fascinating theme throughout the book. She writes about the sanctity of the remains of those who perish in incidents and how they need to be respected, right down to the tiniest fragments.

The book isn’t just about Easthope’s work; she made the brave decision to share personal tragedy as well. It is heartrending to read about her many miscarriages and how she just carried on, working with death every day and yet so committed to creating new life. She writes about the interplay between her husband’s career as a pilot and her own work, with some alarming coincidences when both worlds collide.

A timely read

Two years after the emergence of a global pandemic, a book about planning for disasters seems timely.  The risk of a pandemic sat at the top of the National Risk Register for many years, and yet over time fewer senior clinicians and government ministers attended the annual exercise to test the response. Easthope asks, “Perhaps it just wasn’t exciting enough?”

Well, it is now and with her book gracing the best seller lists, emergency planning should no longer be in the shadows, but sit in its rightful place alongside the emergency services. She has done a remarkable job to share her world and not only boost those who work in the profession but inspire a new generation of emergency planners.

When the Dust Settles is published by Hodder and Stoughton.

Lucy will be speaking at The Emergency Services Show on 21 September.