I alluded to this subject in my post on historical disasters and recoveries but no one has picked up on it so far so I’m going to restate and re-emphasize it. Over the last forty years we’ve closed a lot of military bases. And many of those base closures have taken place among the bases closest to major urban areas. Chicago has lost at least two bases in the last 25 years: the base on the O’Hare airport property and Glenview Naval Air Station. This has been significantly abetted by the reality of the value of the land used by the bases.
We shouldn’t lose track of the value of military bases for civil defense purposes, maintaining civil order, or quick response in the face of natural disasters. Like it or not we only have one institution that has the discipline, culture, morale, attitude, and training to respond rapidly and decisively in the face of these kinds of occurrences: the military.
In the aftermath of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 one of the greatest reasons that they were able to retain civil order and respond effectively to the catastrophe was the Presidio. The military at the Presidio kept order, put out fires, gave medical care, built shelters for those left homeless, and fed hungry people. And they had initiative. They didn’t wait for orders from Washington before taking decisive action.
John Donovan of Argghhh! has a description based on his actual experience and knowledge of the complexities involved in responses to catastrophes. What do you do when the bridges are out, the highways are closed, and the disaster is ongoing?
One potential answer to the question is have the resources close at hand. Perhaps we should re-think our approach to base placement taking response to urban disaster into consideration.