Wednesday, October 24, 2007

This is not Katrina!!!

Ok...another fire related rant.
These fires are NOT the same as Hurricane Katrina. There are two groups of folks who seem eager to compare the two, but I'm going to explain why a comparison is off-base.
1. The Bush administration is yapping this up as if the federal government is responsible for how well this has been handled.
2. There are certain people who are saying that the response to these fires, when compared to Katrina, proves racial bias.
To BOTH of these arguments, I say "Bullshit!"

As I stated in my prior post about the fires, California deals with these fires every year. Not "some years". Not "every now and again". But, EVERY YEAR. Some of you might even recall the pics I took earlier this year from the Day Fire. Wildfires are not unexpected or irregular occurrences. Hurricane, while also expected, don't always occur with the same force, in the same location, year after year. There's some variance. And, while fires, of course, move around a bit,... I guarantee you that there's very little geographical space that hasn't burnt before.

Because of this regularity, it's not uncommon for fire departments and the State of California to pre-stage men and equipment during the month of October. I noticed, on the drive home from Disneyland, that there was some staging going on with helicopters. As I said in my prior post, it's not "if" there is a fire, it's "Where?" and "How big?" The State of California and local agencies don't just practice a drill every year, they actually fight these fires every year. We even train prisoners on "good behavior" how to help the state fire agencies, specifically in wildfire control. So, as one would expect, after thirty or forty years of dealing with the same disaster year after year, the emergency services have this sort of disaster on lock down even before it happens. Practice, after all, makes perfect (or close to it). In contrast, New Orleans doesn't have a massive hurricane every year. Sure...there are lots of hurricanes that make landfall in the Gulf States, but aside from New Orleans/Katrina, they usually don't inundate an entire city with twelve feet of standing water for months. The hurricane didn't cause the chaos in New Orleans...the breech of the levees did. How do you train people for that? How do you stage for a flood that very few people acknowledged as possible/probable? How do you stage for a flood of that magnitude, period? You can't exactly put helicopters in different spots and just hope that that levee doesn't break. New Orleans was screwed by complacency and a belief that everything that could have been done had been done. And, sadly, they were woefully under-prepared for the worst possible scenario.

Also, if my information is accurate, counties in California declared states of emergency very quickly. They do it every year. No one worries about how it will effect them politically. Each county knows what resources it has and how they are best used. If there's a deficit in resources, they will call in for help. Louisiana and Mississippi didn't immediately declare a disaster. could, and probably should, argue that the Bush administration should've just trumped the petty bullshit from the local governments in Katrina, but... the system is the system. There's no doubt that the delay in asking for federal help hurt people left in the wake of Katrina.

You can't compare the evacuation of one million people with means to evacuate to a million people who are bordering on the poverty level. Furthermore, even in the worst of fires, streets are still streets...they don't turn into lakes of filth and unseen hazards. If a tree or power line falls across the street in a fire, you can still see it. Fires also go through a neighborhood and leave usually within the same day. Floods of Katrina's proportions left water in neighborhoods for months. Houses that are destroyed by fire are...destroyed. There's little left. And, what is left isn't likely to harbor mold and bacteria because, well, the fire nom-nom-noms those little beasties, too. Houses that have sat in putrid water for months, by comparison, are festering caves of goo, mold, and disease. You have to clear the debris (which the fire does for you, pretty efficiently). You have to wait for insurance companies to decide what destroyed your house and how much they're going to pay you back. In homes destroyed by fires, there's really no argument about wind damage versus water damage.

The Superdome is not QualCom Stadium. The Superdome was surrounded by deep water. QualCom Stadium is still able to bring in goods and services to support the evacuees. And, as opposed to New Orleans, the infrastructure of the town of San Diego wasn't destroyed along with the people's homes. You've got doctors and pharmacists doing business out of the Stadium. You've got police patrolling the Stadium. You've got the Humane Society of California setting up pet care facilities for those evacuated, right there on sight. You've got the community in a position to bring in food, clothes, diapers, and just about anything a person needs to feel human. I don't think that occurred at the Superdome.

It's not about a better federal response: Bush isn't due any congratulations over the response to the fire. FEMA may jump in and help a bit, but... the state and local government had emergency plans that have worked exceedingly well. The federal response is just back-up.

It's not about the fact that there are fewer black people in Southern California. We have our share of minorities, too. The "rich white people" that people are trying to compare to the "poor black people" is irrelevant - the bottom line is that New Orleans was paralyzed to a point where it couldn't function, while San Diego isn't. Stop trying to make a racial point where there isn't one. It's not about race!


invisible dragon under the bed said...

The response to the Cedar fire, in 2003, suffered from some embarrassing screw-ups and miscommunications; the agencies involved did a pretty good job of identifying and resolving those problems to the point of being much better prepared this time.
SoCal burns; it's one of the regular seasons here. We're used to it and try to behave accordingly.
And nobody throws an evacuation better than San Diego.

Eight Hour Lunch said...

And of course there have already been the inevitable tie-ins to global warming...altough I'd grant you that this very specific part of the globe is a hell of a lot warmer than it was a few weeks ago.

Aerik said...

Global Warming, Shmobal Shmorming.

The only comparison to Katrina that can possibly be made is that since a million people have been evacuated, that far outnumbers Katrina's evacuation number. And their shelters are a heck of a lot better run, too. Except, CA prepared for this. New Orleans didn't.

But that doesn't stop Bush from doing video conferences to act as if his reaction was better this time. Fucking asshole.

Ed The Frog said...

One nitpick: everyone who had been paying attention to New Orleans in the last few years prior to Katrina knew that it was "due" for a major hurricane to take out its levees. FEMA had rated a category 3 hurricane hitting New Orleans as one of the 3 most probable/most destructive possible disasters that could happen to the US.

AlisonM said...

Ed, you're right. However, it opens up a different comparison between the fires and Katrina. The State of California knows that a natural disaster is imminent, and regularly plans and prepares to minimize the damage. The Federal Government had the opportunity to prepare as well, and not only didn't prepare, but was completely incompetent at minimizing the damage. (Heck, they had plenty of advance warning about 9/11, too.) Another comparison is that the firefighters and all the other people working behind the scenes are doing their best, sacrificing sleep and family and risking their lives, and when it's all done, they'll go back to normal without crowing about their accomplishments. The Feds sat on their butts, argued, spent money on useless things that helped nobody, blocked volunteers from coming in to help, and made promises they never intended to keep. Afterwards, everyone was getting rotator cuff injuries from patting themselves on the back so much.

So, yes, the advance warning could be counted as a similarity between the two, but in the end, it still shows how different they are from each other.