Disaster Response

The private sector could soon own a Navy ship to lay the hull of its own disaster-preparedness fleet. 

A certain Virginia senator, on behalf of a constituent, has asked Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano about the possibility that the USS Tarawa (LHA-1) could be turned over to an emergency-preparedness nonprofit to commence a second career as a “mobile, state-of-the-art disaster-response platform.” 

In a three-page manifesto, the Virginia-based constituent outlined a plan somewhat akin to maritime pre-positioning — but in private hands. The Tarawa would become a part of the Maritime Emergency Preparedness Project. He points to the effectiveness of the Navy’s USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7) and USS Nassau (LHA-4) in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Ike, respectively. His proposal targets two additional vessels, suggesting once the Nassau and USS Peleliu (LHA-5) are decommissioned, they join the Tarawa. (The gater grand dame is slated to be decommissioned March 31 in San Diego.) 

It appears the constituent’s nonprofit buds are looking at a near takeover of emergency and disaster response. The Virginia-based gentleman all but stated DHS cannot handle the mission, implying it falls to DoD when DHS agencies come up short. He envisions a smorgasbord of shipboard capabilities on an uber-Tarawa, but that would require a tremendous outlay of cash, as would maintaining a ship that rusts at any opportunity. (We don’t think he has any idea what poor shape a decommissioned ship could be in.) The most perplexing aspect of the proposal is the assured and repeated clash with government officials that would result. (Disaster assistance and emergency management, inherently government functions, belong to [you guessed it] FEMA. FEMA might be small, but its dedicated crew is getting better with age.) While assistance from the private sector is crucial, as evidenced by FEMA’s relative newcomer, its Private Sector Office, this level of involvement could prove detrimental. (Imagine Blackwater [Xe] in Iraq. That’s right, we’ve already lived through that one. Imagine Blackwater [Xe] in disaster preparedness.) 

Our question: Is it the Navy’s intent to decommission ships faster than it can launch ‘em in an effort to build the fleet to 313

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