Government agencies, non-profits join together for success

Matthew White

As the Golden State went up in smoke, an impressive array of machinery, human ingenuity and governance were set to the task of extinguishing it.

In California, CNN reported last Thursday that 145 state-owned fire engines, 25 locally owned fire engines and 26 bulldozers met with 1,500 members of the state’s National Guard to combat the blaze.

Other states helped out as well. Nevada provided five strike teams (17 firefighters per team), 25 fire engines and 100 firefighters. Arizona provided seven strike teams, 35 fire engines and 140 firefighters. And, New Mexico provided three strike teams, 15 fire engines and 60 firefighters.

The federal government also played a prominent role. In a separate article, CNN reported that 12 Defense Department firefighting teams and 12 fire engines were on the scene, 550 marines were preparing to deploy and six federally-owned C-130s were dropping water and fire suppressants. The Pentagon provided 11 helicopters equipped with water buckets. Add to that support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and alternative agencies within the Department of Homeland Security.

On a humanitarian side, the Navy made room for evacuees by moving soldiers’ living quarters from the mainland onto ships and offering an Aegis cruiser, a guided missile destroyer and two fast frigates to support evacuation efforts. In addition, military bases in California were used as staging bases for medical care.

These governmental efforts — and there are more than I have room to list — were joined by help from the non-profit sector. One organization in particular, Nourish America, collected healthy food for the evacuees in temporary shelters. It was joined by the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross, among others. In addition, the Humane Society and other organizations helped rescue and evacuate pets and farm animals.

All of this demonstrates the healthy and successful interaction that government can have with the private sector in times of national emergency. This response — clearly superior to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — went smoothly, indicating a presence of competence and resourcefulness that was absent from the prior incident.

Constitutionally, the principle of federalism was respected. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger first declared a state of emergency for seven counties Oct. 22 and was followed by President Bush’s declaration of an emergency on Wednesday. This is important because of the separation of powers between the state and federal government makes it necessary for the governor to give the federal government the authority to act.

For all the criticism recently uncovered about the understaffed and underprepared fire departments in Southern California, the resources they were able to muster combined with the help from other states and the federal government transformed a situation with great potential for disaster into a success.

The firefighters, military personal, public officials and others who reacted quickly to rescue people and their homes during the last week are true heroes and their efforts must be acknowledged. So, here’s to them: Thank you.

Matthew White is a senior magazine journalism major and pre-law minor and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].