Thursday, October 25, 2007

A comparison of disaster response: Hurricane Katrina and the San Diego Wildfires

I heard this on NPR this afternoon:

Comparing Responses to Katrina, Calif. Wildfires

It's worth a listen, as it covers some of the differences in disaster response between the two events.

Quality of leadership was cited as a main factor in getting Federal assistance. While NOLA Mayor Nagin ranted on a radio show and Governor Blanko organized a moment of prayer to handle Katrina, Governor Schwarzenegger went on site to the Del Mar fairgrounds to ensure nursing home patients were evacuated to waiting medical facilities.

Also, it appears Governor Schwarzenegger pre-filed paperwork under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act when the indications were the wildfires could become a problem, rather than waiting until disaster struck, as was the case in Louisiana during Katrina.

Demographics and geography are likely factors as well. People in NOLA who could not evacuate were largely poor and didn't have their own transportation, while those in suburban San Diego could drive themselves out of the danger zone.

Emergency response isn't hampered by flooding in San Diego, of course. Once the fires are out, emergency vehicles can move in. Not the case in NOLA, were flood waters were very persistent.

To San Diego's benefit, there are a lot of military facilities in the area. Contrast that with New Orleans, where Federal help was days away.

California as a whole is subject to more than a few disasters on their own. Between other wildfires, mudslides and earthquakes it would seem their emergency responders have a bit of experience. As Katrina was, literally, a once in a life time event it's not as if there was lots of experience in dealing with floods of that magnitude.

The NPR article brought up race and class issues as well. Frankly, I don't see race as a factor at this stage. The disasters are different, and it's not as if San Diego is lilly white ( hint: White persons not Hispanic, percent, 2005 = 52.3% ).

Class may be another matter. It's true that there's more money in San Diego than in New Orleans, both in terms of personal wealth and in taxes collected by the local government. Having more funds available of course means there's more options available.

It will be interesting to see how San Diego comes out of this. Hopefully, they'll fare better than New Orleans, which still seems to be having problems.

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