Major disasters bring out the best in many people, and the worst in our government.
Get this. When a wildfire erupts at Camp Pendleton, thousands of Marines and squadrons of high-tech helicopters (piloted by the best-trained crews in the world) will douse it. It happens there and at other domestic military installations.
If the same wildfire erupts just outside base boundaries, the military is not allowed to fight it.
This non-allocation of resources can have horrific results. Two years ago next month, San Diego’s massive wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes. The Cedar fire got a head start, since the state’s handful of civilian water bombers, some so old their peers are in museums, was off fighting fires elsewhere.
According to media accounts, in the first few hours San Diego Navy pilots valiantly scrambled their helicopters to Ramona Airport, ready willing and able to fight the blaze. They were denied permission by state authorities due to interagency non-cooperation. The Cedar fire, unchecked from the air in the early hours, grew into one of the largest and most destructive conflagrations in California history.
Fast forward to New Orleans. The Katrina disaster started days before the storm hit. With total evacuation recommended and civilian airlines canceling all flights despite perfect pre-storm weather, it was time to call the generals off the golf course and have the United States Air Force mount a huge human airlift employing hundreds of C130s, C141s and C17s.
We did a Berlin airlift in 1948 but can’t do a New Orleans airlift in 2005? Once the storm and flood hit, why didn’t 82nd Airborne parachute into the city in the earliest hours and restore order? They intervened in the 1967 Detroit riots. At dawn’s first light, a squadron of a thousand Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force helicopters could have swarmed upon the crescent city. It was time to strike and awe Katrina. We have resources, but not the will.
The average taxpayer, let alone the beleaguered disaster victim, couldn’t give a damn about levels of government. It can and should be all one government. And when disaster strikes, every available resource can and should be employed. If necessary, over deploy – error on the side of life, civil order and protection of property. Next time the Santa Anas are blowing and the inevitable fires erupt, put a thousand water bombers in the sky! We own the planes and their first priority should be our safety.
Perhaps the ultimate irony is that we finally found a weapon of mass destruction during the Bush years. It is the interagency fiddling that prevents the rapid and overwhelming response to natural disasters not in some far flung corner of the world, but right here in the good old USA. It lurks just over the horizon, waiting to bumble through the next Southern California wildfire or 7.5 earthquake. We are a superpower in resources, and a Third World government when it comes to their deployment in times when Americans need help most.
Just ask the courageous military pilots who sat on the ground at Ramona Airport unable to nip San Diego Cedar wildfire in the bud.The solution is surprising simple if chronically elusive – LEADERSHIP.