The devastating wildfires that engulfed more than 500,000 acres in southern California last fall highlighted the need for a federal fire response capability, said Paul McHale assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and America’s security affairs.
“Wildfires are not included in the 15 national planning scenarios at this time but I suspect they may will be added at some point in the not too distant future,” McHale said at a National Defense Industrial Association Coast Guard conference. The California wildfires were a catastrophic event that required a national response, he said. They sent thousands of residents fleeing and reduced more than 2,000 homes to ash.
McHale was referring to the national response plans, which outline an all-hazards approach to address major incidents, such as hurricanes and attacks employing weapons of mass destruction. Ideally, the government should be able to respond to multiple disasters happening simultaneously — for example — a hurricane strikes the East Coast as an earthquake hits the West Coast.
More than one year ago, McHale said that the government had thoroughly planned for only two them — pandemic influenza and hurricanes. One year later, that is still the case, he said.
McHale and his office have complained that the other federal agencies are not doing their part to help prepare for these disasters.
If widespread fires are added as a scenario that will make 14 catastrophic disasters the federal government is unprepared to take on.