Rapture Rescue 911: Disaster Response for the Chosen
By Naomi Klein, The Nation
Posted on November 3, 2007, Printed on November 3, 2007
I used to worry that the United States was in the grip of extremists
who sincerely believed that the Apocalypse was coming and that they and
their friends would be airlifted to heavenly safety. I have since
reconsidered. The country is indeed in the grip of extremists who are
determined to act out the biblical climax -- the saving of the chosen
and the burning of the masses -- but without any divine intervention.
Heaven can wait. Thanks to the booming business of privatized disaster
services, we're getting the Rapture right here on earth.
look at what is happening in Southern California. Even as wildfires
devoured whole swaths of the region, some homes in the heart of the
inferno were left intact, as if saved by a higher power. But it wasn't
the hand of God; in several cases it was the handiwork of Firebreak
Spray Systems. Firebreak is a special service offered to customers of
insurance giant American International Group -- but only if they happen
to live in the wealthiest ZIP codes in the country. 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 fire-trucks -- even extinguished fires
for their clients.
One customer described a scene of modern-day
Revelation. "Just picture it. Here you are in that raging wildfire.
Smoke everywhere. Flames everywhere. Plumes of smoke coming up over the
hills," he told the Los Angeles Times. "Here's a couple guys showing up
in what looks like a firetruck who are experts trained in fighting
wildfire and they're there specifically to protect your home."
your home alone. "There were a few instances," one of the private
firefighters told Bloomberg News, "where we were spraying and the
neighbor's house went up like a candle." With public fire departments
cut to the bone, gone are the days of Rapid Response, when everyone was
entitled to equal protection. Now, increasingly intense natural
disasters will be met with the new model: Rapture Response.
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."
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.
Like so many private disaster
companies, Sovereign Deed is selling escape from climate change and the
failed state -- by touting the security clearance and connections its
executives amassed while working for that same state. So Mills,
speaking recently in Pellston, explained, "The reality of FEMA is that
it has no infrastructure, and a lot of our National Guard is
elsewhere." Sovereign Deed, on the other hand, claims to have "direct
access and special arrangements with several national and international
information centers. These proprietary arrangements allow our Emergency
Operations Center to...give our Members that critical head start in
times of crisis." In this secular version of the Rapture, God's hand is
unnecessary. Not when you have retired ex-CIA agents and ex-Special
Forces lifting the chosen to safety -- no need to pray, just pay. And
who needs a celestial New Jerusalem when you can have Pellston, with
its flexible local politicians and its surprisingly modern regional
Sovereign Deed could soon find itself competing with
Blackwater USA, whose CEO, Erik Prince, wrote recently of his plans to
offer "full spectrum" services, including humanitarian aid in
disasters. When fires broke out in San Diego County, near the proposed
site of the controversial Blackwater West base, the company immediately
seized the opportunity to make its case. Blackwater could have been the
"tactical operation center for East County fires," said company vice
president Brian Bonfiglio. "Can you imagine how much of a benefit it
would be if we were operational now?" To show off its capacity,
Blackwater has been distributing badly needed food and blankets to
people of Potrero, California. "This is something we've always done,"
Bonfiglio said. "This is what we do." Actually, what Blackwater does,
as Iraqis have painfully learned, is not protect entire communities or
countries but "protect the principal" -- the principal being whoever
has paid Blackwater for its guns and gear.
pay-to-be-saved logic governs this entire new sector of country club
disaster management. There is, of course, another principle that could
guide our collective responses in a disaster-prone world: the simple
conviction that every life is of equal value.
For anyone out there who still believes in that wild idea, the time has urgently arrived to protect the principle.
Naomi Klein is the author of Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/66743/