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.
While I am somewhat sympathetic to the idea (the Army *always* closes the bases in nice areas and keeps the ones in the desert…) here are a few observations.
The bases in the disaster area are also a part of the disaster. Keesler AFB is also cleaning itself up and dealing with it’s own issues – though it will probably come on-line fairly quickly
Troops. Just because you have some people sitting on an installation (Fort Sheridan comes to mind in Chicago) which used to, long ago and far away, have an actual deployable unit presence, was, before it’s closure, Headquarters for an administrative HQs, 4th Army. Admittedly, they *were* tasked with MSCA duties, but as a HQ, not as a service provider. We simply don’t have the bodies in uniform we used to have, and the combat units require large places to train – no longer can you keep almost an infantry division in a place like Fort Sheridan.
We did use Fort Chaffee Arkansas, then underutilized, as a refugee camp for the Mariel Boat Lift – but it costs a lot of money to maintain redunant spaces for that purpose.
It *is* however, a perfectly valid question to raise, if we are in an era where the storms will be more frequent, whether or not to actually maintain what amounts to a standing refugee center, or centers, as a result of lessons learned in this event.
We may not want to hold onto a lot of the closing installations (though many of them are really pretty small, and can’t house a large number of people) but we might want to consider keeping/reopening some of them, with a caretaker staff, that could be manned by troops and Red Cross/Salvation Army/etc personnel.
Yes, that’s precisely my point, John. I also believe that no civilian institution has the ability to respond the way so many of the critics of the federal government response seem to want to think it should. Or will have. Or should have.
Good post. There is so much to consider.
I came by way of Dean’s World. See you there quite a bit. I will have to stop by more.
And if would appear that we are doing precisely that, again, at Fort Chaffee.
Welcome, Mary Janelle. Come back any time—I post frequently.
State and local governments need to wean themselves from over-dependence on federal help. The first few days after a major disaster are going to be the baby of local jurisdictions. Accept it. Prepare for it.
What happened in Louisiana is the epitome of incompetent local government and lack of local planning. Local comes first, folks. L O C A L.