As state forestry officials predict an unusually harsh fire season this summer, the California National Guard says equipment shortages could hinder the guard’s response to a large-scale disaster.
A dearth of equipment such as trucks and radios — caused in part by the war in Iraq — has state military officials worried they would be slow in providing help in the event of a major fire, earthquake or terrorist attack.
The readiness of the Guard has been described as a national problem and has become a political liability for the Bush administration, which came under fire this week when the governor of Kansas complained that the National Guard response to a devastating tornado in her state was inadequate. National Guard readiness has become a growing concern as the Guard has taken on extra responsibilities caused by the Iraq war and the increased threat of terrorism.
In California, half of the equipment the National Guard needs is not in the state, either because it is deployed in Iraq or other parts of the world or because it hasn’t been funded, according to Lt. Col. John Siepmann. While the Guard is in good shape to handle small-scale incidents, “our concern is a catastrophic event,” he said.
“You would see a less effective response (to a major incident),” he said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also acknowledged the National Guard’s equipment woes and attributed them to the war. National Guard policy has required that much of the equipment that goes with units to Iraq stays there.