Everyone deserves a safe haven

Pete Weisser is a Sacramento writer who worked as a reporter covering California floods, wildfires, government and transportation issues

Let’s improve America’s disaster response by dedicating excess military bases as shelter—called Safe Havens—for evacuees from natural disasters or terrorist acts.

Sacramento County showed an example by wisely using Mather Field to help Katrina evacuees. The president and Congress should swiftly create a nationwide Safe Havens emergency network to help American disaster evacuees. Congresswoman Doris Matsui says the idea is worth exploring with her congressional colleagues.

More than 3 million Americans fled hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Many of them are still homeless, lacking adequate temporary housing.

Safe Havens at former bases can efficiently help U.S. citizens displaced by natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. Their use will be absolutely essential if terrorists explode “dirty bombs” or release chemicals or infectious substances in American cities. Such terrorist acts would produce crowds of contaminated refugees who need care in secure, quarantined settings.

Key bases offer vital infrastructure and necessary services: hospitals, airports, housing, dining halls, offices and communications. They would provide basic human services; venues for emergency aid by non-governmental organizations, charities and government agencies; plus military security.

Disaster agencies could quickly staff Safe Haven bases. Electronic communications linking these bases could speed accounting for the missing, provide evacuee rosters and reunite separated family members.

America’s domestic military bases were carefully screened in recent years with closure in mind. Their assets and rescue potential are freshly documented. They are valuable real-estate investments, already paid for by taxpayers. Qualified bases designated as Safe Havens should form a national emergency system, under military operational control.

Used in concert with other venues and temporary housing options, Safe Havens could have reduced the chaos seen in Katrina’s aftermath, when evacuees sought refuge in football arenas.

The president can swiftly redirect the base-closure effort, transforming it into a domestic rescue mission. The president and Congress should act now to protect Americans by creating a proactive, efficient Safe Havens emergency network.