Why isn't the military more involved in disaster relief?

First off, I know the military, or at least the national guard, DOES get involved in disaster relief, and they usually do a great job. I’m wondering why it doesn’t happen more often.

I was listening to some stories out of the Colorado floods, and I kept thinking that a lot of the problems could be solved with the manpower and equipment the military has on hand.

An area needs medical services and the hospital’s washed out? Throw down a field hospital. People are stranded because roads are out? Fly out a squad of helicopters. People are homeless because their house washed away? Throw down some GP mediums and larges. Need to do search and rescue? Alright grunts, you’re going to do some hiking and you don’t even have to bring the rifle this time!

I know I make it sound glib, but why aren’t more of these actions taking place? The chopper pilots need flight time for training, might as well save some guys. The medical corps needs the practice when they aren’t overseas. While I know the average infantry grunt has things to do on a daily basis, seems like a lot of those things can be put on hold to go save some lives.

Is it a cost problem? Too busy with other things? (what?) Burnout from going from disaster to disaster? This already happens and the media just doesn’t report on it?

I realize the OP was talking about you folk south of the border, but here is one example from up here.

What are you talking about?

The military does a lot of disaster and other domestic type operations- ISTR that Army medevac helicopters flew shifts out of Mercy Hospital in New Orleans pre-Katrina, and that after Katrina, the USAF set up a field hospital in the Astrodome parking lot for the evacuees.

Because that isn’t the military’s job. Yes, they have tons of manpower sitting around at any given moment that could be directed to help build or search or help but that isn’t what we paid for. Presumably those military resources are doing something useful, like training. If it turns out that the military machine has the resources to do those jobs then maybe we need to cut their budget and use that money to build a disaster branch of government service. Maybe we could fund the park service or some other branch to do those jobs. I’m pretty sure it would be cheaper to build the homeless brand new mansions, with pools, than it would be to get the military to throw down some tents.

Also, I think we have a natural reluctance to deploy the military inside our borders.

As I noted, I’m asking why they don’t do MORE, or, why the media doesn’t report on it.

ISTM that deploying for a disaster is the best training available: on the job training. And just because they have the ability to do this doesn’t mean we should take their money away and give it to the park service: they can have more than one job.

If it’s ridiculously expensive to deploy a military unit as disaster relief, why?

So park rangers should also be trained in disaster assistance? Social Security clerks? SBA administrators? As if they have enough resources to do their own jobs, you want them doing things outside of their expertise?

It seems to me that this is exactly what the National Guard is supposed to do – at least that’s what the NG advertisements imply. And certainly the name implies they should be domestic.

But with an all volunteer army and cost-cutting we don’t have the military manpower to actually fight the “wars” we’re in so the NG ids doing that. A big complaint I’ve heard is how often and repeatedly the NG is being deployed overseas.

I take it that you’re asking why the military doesn’t deploy 10,000 soldiers to help assist in natural disaster recovery, as opposed to the 750 (or so) National Guardsmen who were called out?

Generally, governors have wide latitude to direct members of their own state’s National Guard to perform civil missions like disaster recovery. States also enter into compacts with neighbors to allow them to leverage the National Guard people and equipment in neighboring states: if state A has a lot of helicopters but no little earth moving equipment, they can borrow what they need from state B.

So there are definitely ways for states to get the support they need from the military, but there’s the inevitable question of logistics: in the middle of an emergency, hwo do you know it is practical to move 10,000 troops to some place, supply them with the proper equipment, give them food, water and shelter, direct them where to go and what to do, etc? Keep in mind none of that is free, and both the state and the Federal government has to have the money to do that, so the idea of throwing bodies at a problem in the style of Mao Zedong isn’t really in fashion. The tendency seems to be to ask for the capabilities that can be used, as opposed to “Give me everything you’ve got!!”

Think of it this way: if your house is on fire, which would you rather have: 20 well trained firefighters, or those 20 firefighters and 500 of your well-intentioned neighbors getting in the way?

Thanks Ravenman, that makes a lot of sense.

I suppose I have just seen a lot of situations where warm bodies is all that’s needed to make something work, and warm, well-trained and in good shape bodies would seem like an even better choice, but you raise a good point about how much I’d want my neighbors mucking things up :slight_smile:

Plus, the idea that troops are well-trained tends to be true in a general sense: an infantryman may know exactly what to do if he comes under enemy fire, but does he know how to rescue someone from a flooded, raging river without risking his own life in the process? Training in the general sense doesn’t necessarily mean trained to do a specific thing.

I will also add that if you haven’t seen a lot of coverage of military relief efforts in Colorado, you must be getting much different news than I am. Honestly, I haven’t paid lots of attention to the floods, but the coverage I have watched is chock-a-block with stories of kids being flown to safety on Chinook helicopters, etc.

One reason the Media doesn’t report this more than it does is that it’s ordinary.

I’m okay with government employees being trained in disaster relief and then expected to provide some level of help in an emergency. I’m also in favor of public sector employees being trained and expected to help in a disaster. One of the credos of an early advocate of water safety was “Every person a swimmer, every swimmer a lifesaver”.

Not so ordinary that your average civilian-type knows that it is ordinary. To be fair, the media seems far more interested in pointing out the military’s butt pimples than anything positive. We’re supposed to adore our soldiers, but for every medal of honor (which you get by saving other soldiers) story that makes headlines you’ve got six others about some outfit running amok and slaughtering babies because they didn’t surrender the candy quickly enough. The media doesn’t report the good stuff (as often) because it isn’t sexy.

If you look at bump’s first link they have a picture of an army unit rescuing a cat. This is fabulous training for the Army rescue teams who aren’t busy doing something else at that moment, no question. They get real life experience, a cat gets rescued and the Army gets great PR. Except for the training opportunity, and the PR, it is a horrid squandering of resources to use an Army helicoper for that job.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t do that sometimes, it just isn’t the job they are paid to do so they aren’t always going to be on hand. It’s a disaster so of course you call in everyone you can find to pitch in. But the Army trains for another purpose and they use equipment built, expensively, for military purposes.

If there is a need for rescue crews to do such jobs in America, why not have crews that are trained for that purpose, rather than crews trained to operate in war zones? Why fly a helicopter built to withstand attack when there is no chance of one? I believe a civilian organisation with civilian equipment could have rescued that cat for a whole lot less money and then those civilian crews could have been getting experience for the next disaster.

I spent 23 years in the US Navy Seabees wondering exactly the same thing. At any given time during those years, there were at least four battalions of construction workers sitting in home port, awaiting rotation to overseas deployments. Billions of dollars of heavy equipment sitting in both Gulfport, MS and Port Hueneme, CA. Thousands of men trained in disaster recovery operations, logistics and heavy equipment operation. And yet, the Seabees were called upon in large numbers exactly once that I can remember, when a huge hurricane hit the gulf back in the 70s, impacting much of Mississippi. Overseas, we responded to a fire in Guam, and I went on a small team to assist in Guatemala after the '76 earthquake. A battalion that was in Guam when super typhoon Pamela struck in '76 responded to that disaster. It was puzzling to me then and is puzzling to me still why these highly trained folks are not called upon more.

We’ve had two massive wildfires in San Diego in my time here; most notably in 2003 (Cedar Fire). It was particularly disasterous because many of our firefighters had been committed to the Los Angeles area at the time, which was having its own wave of fires that October, and my understanding is that once they are committed, you can’t pull them back.

At the time, firefighting personnel at the numerous Navy and Marine military bases in the area were asking, nay begging, to help save homes and were told by the city that their training was inadequate relative to the type of fires going on and that they should stand down. It created so much hate of the city council they promised it wouldn’t happen again.

The next time around (Witch Creek Fire) in 2007 or so, the fire wasn’t nearly as bad, and that time they actually even had firefighting planes ready to tackle the problem, but the planes apparently have to have some kind of spotter guy on board from the Forestry Service to be able to fly. Guess who was unavailable and kept the planes grounded, starting another round of finger pointing? So in short, you can blame bureaucracy for why the military can’t get involved to a greater degree.

Someone has to pass a resolution with a subcommittee that meets once a month, who approves it up the chain to the point where when the city can officially ask for help, the disaster is already over.

Here is some information about US military relief efforts in connection with the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia.

Thank you for the links, but as I noted in my OP, I am aware the military does SOME disaster relief. The question is: why not MORE, which seems to have been answered.

Which is stupid. God bless firefighters and all that, but it’s not like you need an advanced education to fight wildfires in wooded suburbs. In fact, pretty much what you need is one guy who knows what to do (a professional fire fighter) and a crew of fit guys who can operate rakes, shovels, and hoses, and use teamwork to do what they’re told: Military folks.

The trick is to set up the assistance arrangement BEFORE the emergency happens so the procedure is streamlined: “These 35 civilian firefighters will be team leaders, and they will each get 8 green-collars from this batallion to command…” Should be easier than actual combat because the fire isn’t shooting back and is relatively predictable.