The Politics of Disaster Relief During the Response Phase

Houston, via Twitter

August 29, 2017 (San Diego) During disasters there is a reality that few want to acknowledge. Disasters are the most political of events, even if they should not be. The first reality is that the disaster will hit the most vulnerable the worst, and these communities will have the least amount of coverage by media, or in more than a few cases, emergency services. This is not because of lack of want. This is because of lack of access.

These communities are less served normally. Partly because of tax bases that are not as wealthy or good as they are in better to do areas. During disasters this is magnified by orders of magnitude.

In the case of Texas, and Louisiana poorer, or less to do areas, are also more often in flood zones, because that land is less desirable. So this magnifies the issues. It is not just Texas. We have seen this dynamic in San Diego county as well. The East County has a lot of poverty pockets, that are harder to reach and to serve normally. While fire coverage and response has improved, in reality the response is colored by the fact that these communities are poor.

During the Border Fire last year we saw some of that dynamic. The local sherriffs were not as willing to listen to local residents, and we know that partly is because the community of Potrero is not precisely wealthy. What we heard was similar to what we have heard from communities of color in the inner city. There is a certain level of contempt.

Then there is another layer to this. It is not just the local politics, or a cultural dislike for the poor. When we are dealing with a disaster the size of Harvey, we immediately get into the politics of who deserves what.
It is important to understand how disasters are classified to see how assets are mobilized.  There is an order to the chaos.
Level 1 disasters are your every day responses. Even a crash with 10 patients in a large urban area will be a level 1. These disasters can be met with local resources with no issue and all local areas will be able to respond with no problem.

Level 2 disasters involve more regional assets. Whenever you have a fire, for example, where units from Heartland and San Diego are responding, that is technically a level 2 disaster. These are met easily with regional assets, and a tour bus crashing with multiple casualties easily is one of these.

Level 3 are state wide, might need neighboring states to respond. Any major wildfire that has responders from Northern California, due to the size of the state, could be one. When we send fire fighters to Nevada or Arizona, that is a level 3. A major earthquake or flood could easily be that. Most disasters in the United States stay at this level, because of the size of the country. So assets can respond easily, more or less, from one size of the country, to the other.

Level 4 are disasters that are beyond the capacity of any given nation to respond to. Katrina was that. We had help from 98 nations, and actual physical assets were mobilized. In some ways, 9-11 was that, after the United States invoked Article 5 of the NATO charter. We had German Air Force assets flying in U.S. Airspace.
And this is where real nasty politics get into play. Most nations do not like to request aid, or even accept preferred aid. It is nationalism at its worst. People who need help don’t care if the flag on the shoulder of a rescuer is American, Mexican or Canadian. This happened during Katrina. Mexican troops were doing mass feedings in San Antonio and Canadian helicopters plucked people from rooftops in New Orleans.

I can speak from experience. As a first responder I got to see this when serving as a member of the Mexican Red Cross in Tijuana in 1997. We needed assets and resources, Due to geography, San Diego was closer than many of the specialized teams in Mexico. So we went around, and got some of those resources. These days the Mexican government and the American government might still be too proud to accept the aid. But local governments at times have agreements in place.
Mexico has directly now offered it to the Governor of Texas, and is sending aid. Luis Videgaray, Mexican Foreign Minster posted this on Twitter:

I just spoke to Gov. @GregAbbott_TX. We will provide all the help we can. Our full solidarity with the people of Texas. #HurricaneHarvey
— Luis Videgaray Caso (@LVidegaray) August 28, 2017

It is no longer clear if the Feds are stopping any cooperation between the Government of Mexico and the Governor of Texas. It seems the governor has yet to acknowledge the offers. However, there are sister city agreements in place, that might allow local agencies to respond, They not unlike the ones between San Diego and Tijuana

More bellow.

There are agreements on the ground between San Diego and Tijuana. Why? We are a single region. We are not the only ones. These contingency plans are revised often, and include other cities. Suffice it to say, they are not about only Hazardous Materials, though that is one aspect to the planning,

 

Editor note: Corrected since the situation is not clear,

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