The USA could use a disaster response corps

Click to enlarge. Source:

Click to enlarge. Source:

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions down to zero is not enough.  Any Green New Deal needs a disaster relief component, because climate change is already bringing floods, fires and other emergencies.

The United States needs a Disaster Response Corps, organized along the lines of the original New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps, to deal with climate emergencies.  Like the CCC, it also would be a jobs program.

Right now disaster response is the responsibility of state and local governments, and non-profit organizations.  The federal government’s role is limited to coordination and providing financial aid.

Commonly volunteer groups, such as the Cajun Navy or Occupy Sandy, have to step in when organized relief efforts fail.

The outlook is for more and worse climate- and weather-related disasters.  It won’t be just fires and floods.  As droughts become worse, we can expect internal climate refugees, like the “okies” who were driven off the land during the Dust Bowl disaster in the 1930s.

My idea is that virtually anyone would be able to enlist in the Disaster Relief Corps for a fixed amount of time.  Enlistees would agree to accept military-type discipline and go where they’re sent.  The time between emergencies would be spent in training or maybe taking on some of the tasks of the 1930s CCC..

Pay would be comparable, in inflation-adjusted terms, to what CCC workers or enlisted soldiers got in the 1930s.  Enlistees could be discharged for misconduct, neglect of duty or refusal to follow orders.

The Corps’ mission should not be assigned to the military.  The military is for warriors; the Corps would be for rescuers.

It would be tricky to set it up in a way that didn’t undermine existing efforts, programs and volunteer efforts, but I think it could be done.

Maybe in time the U.S. could help fund a United Nations International Disaster Relief Corps.  There would be plenty of work for it to do.

Climate change is already upon us.  Cutting back in greenhouse gasses will limit how much worse it gets, but that won’t make it go away.  We have to deal with what’s already happening.


U.S. Disaster Relief at Home and Abroad by Rocio Cara Labrador for the Council on Foreign Relations.

34 Disaster Relief Organizations, a list by Raptim Humanitarian Travel.  They’re doing good work.  But should they be expected to do it all?

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One Response to “The USA could use a disaster response corps”

  1. Fred Says:

    I could not agree with you more! Disasters are going to get bigger and more frequent. Our response needs to step up to meet the need. Police and fire are quickly overwhelmed. FEMA and the National Guard are all good and well but we need quicker, better and more local response.

    There is already an example on the books today that needs to be pushed. Each community needs its own CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) program. It is already a FEMA program that communities can use to train local people for disaster response. It dovetails very nicely with local authority when they are needed.

    Mutual aid pacts can be set up between localities. If a tornado hits your town, your own CERT people may have their hands full just surviving. Still, it has been shown that the very first responders are locals from just outside the scene of destruction who spontaneously show up on foot with whatever tools and skills they may have to assist. In the minutes after a disaster, you are on your own. Police, fire, and EMT may not even be able to reach the area.

    It is good to have some responders trained in search and rescue, first aid, disaster psychology, triage, traffic control and possessing some emergency gear scattered throughout a community.

    The problem? A big show of setting it up and training volunteers and then little followup. Five years later and you haven’t heard from them in 4 years. Another big problem is employers who won’t give time off to employees for training or response.

    It needs to be handled more like the National Guard, only without the military culture. A few full-time professionals and a large body of volunteers who periodically drill for small pay. Sanctions on employers who discourage volunteering.

    We also need a national, state and local focus on infrastructure improvement. Seawalls, levies, dams, bridges, utilities, public storm shelters, water supplies, all seem to get ignored until something causes concern to spike. Then we wring our hands and fret over whether our infrastructure will survive. If it does, we sink back into relaxed mode to wait for the next storm. If it doesn’t, there’s another multibillion-dollar disaster – and large numbers of dead that being proactive would have prevented.

    Technology itself creates new disasters to fret over. Another “Carrington Event” and we’ll lose a trillion dollars of electrical infrastructure in the blink of an eye. I don’t see a lot of urgency in our preparing for it.


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