Bill Bradley is one of California’s finest reporters, and his assessment of the federal response to the fires raging through SoCal is a must read.
The differences between the aftermath of Katrina, and the ongoing comprehensive response to the California fires are not the function of the federal government’s successes or failures. Katrina’s chaos resulted because of the collapse of transportation infrastructures, a collapse unrelated to FEMA’s actions. One of the overlooked stories from Katrina was the amazing response of the U.S. Coast Guard, which set a record for rescues which may never be surpassed. Katrina was a slow disaster because of one crucial fact: The failure to evacuate New Orleans before roads were cut off in and out of the city. The storm and the flooding would have killed many even if an evacuation plan had been in place, but the misery in the days after the flooding was the result of a failure to move people out while they could still be transported.
Local officials throughout the California counties affected by the blazes have been incredibly effective in evacuating threatened populations. The loss of life has been very low as a result, and while the number of homes burned is unusually high, the overall effectiveness of the fire and police response has been extraordinary. The difference between the chaos of Katrina and the competence of California’s response has everything to do with the effectiveness of local government backed by state professionals. The feds are helping of course, but the credit goes to the men and women with the hoses, the pilots, and their commanders.