In an article entitled Rapture Rescue 911: Disaster Response for the Chosen on TheNation.com, Naomi Klein solves a problem I've been thinking about during every recent natural disaster, and in particular the recent Southern California fires. Is it realistic to expect that in laissez-faire capitalism there will be private fire companies and emergency response companies that will be able to help people during natural disasters? It seems as there should be, since people ought to be willing to pay for these kinds of services just as they pay for insurance, but I tend to prefer to see at least some evidence for these assumptions. I had previously heard of occasional privatized fire departments in small towns but nothing larger than that. I had not heard of this:
Members of the company's Private Client Group pay an average of $19,000 to have their homes sprayed with fire retardant. During the wildfires, the "mobile units"--racing around in red firetrucks--even extinguished fires for their clients.Ms. Klein, of course, sneers at all this and apparently takes for granted that people have a right to equal disaster assistance that should be provided free of charge. But leaving aside the sneers, I really think this is an awesome demonstration of the power of the market, hampered though it is, to provide services that people are willing to pay for, including services typically assumed to be the exclusive domain of the government.
During last year's hurricane season, Florida homeowners were offered similarly high-priced salvation by HelpJet, a travel agency launched with promises to turn "a hurricane evacuation into a jet-setter vacation." For an annual fee, a company concierge takes care of everything: transport to the air terminal, luxurious travel, bookings at five-star resorts. Most of all, HelpJet is an escape hatch from the kind of government failure on display during Katrina. "No standing in lines, no hassle with crowds, just a first class experience."
HelpJet is about to get some serious competition from some much larger players. In northern Michigan, during the same week that the California fires raged, the rural community of Pellston was in the grip of an intense public debate. The village is about to become the headquarters for the first fully privatized national disaster response center. The plan is the brainchild of Sovereign Deed, a little-known start-up with links to the mercenary firm Triple Canopy. Like HelpJet, Sovereign Deed works on a "country-club type membership fee," according to the company's vice president, retired Brig. Gen. Richard Mills. In exchange for a one-time fee of $50,000 followed by annual dues of $15,000, members receive "comprehensive catastrophe response services" should their city be hit by a manmade disaster that can "cause severe threats to public health and/or well-being" (read: a terrorist attack), a disease outbreak or a natural disaster. Basic membership includes access to medicine, water and food, while those who pay for "premium tiered services" will be eligible for VIP rescue missions.