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(AP Photo/Dothan Eagle, Danny Tindell via Yahoo)

A string of deadly tornadoes hit the midwest and southeast from Kansas across to Alabama and Georgia, as far north as the Carolinas.  Severe winter weather — including large amounts of snow and ice — is wreaking havoc in a lot of states who were just beginning to dig out from the last ones.   And the Bay Area around SanFran got hit with a 4.2 earthquake yesterday evening. 

Locally, we're having a bit of a flood watch.  No big for us, we live on a hill, but not so fun for folks in low lying areas at the moment.  And that's just for starters.

Which just makes this news all the more troubling:

Nearly 90 percent of Army National Guard units in the United States are rated "not ready" — largely as a result of shortfalls in billions of dollars' worth of equipment — jeopardizing their capability to respond to crises at home and abroad, according to a congressional commission that released a preliminary report yesterday on the state of U.S. military reserve forces.

The report found that heavy deployments of the National Guard and reserves since 2001 for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for other anti-terrorism missions have deepened shortages, forced the cobbling together of units and hurt recruiting.

"We can't sustain the [National Guard and reserves] on the course we're on," said Arnold L. Punaro, chairman of the 13-member Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, established by Congress in 2005. The independent commission, made up mainly of former senior military and civilian officials appointed by both parties, is tasked to study the mission, readiness and compensation of the reserve forces.

"The Department of Defense is not adequately equipping the National Guard for its domestic missions," the commission's report found. It faulted the Pentagon for a lack of budgeting for "civil support" in domestic emergencies, criticizing the "flawed assumption" that as long as the military is prepared to fight a major war, it is ready to respond to a disaster or emergency at home….

The report also said prospects for Guard recruiting and retention remain "highly problematic," despite successes last year. Fewer former active-duty military personnel have joined the reserves over the past 10 years — they made up 38 percent of the Army National Guard recruits last year, compared with 61 percent in 1997. Polling data for youths and their parents also show that favorable views of service in the Guard and reserves have declined since November 2001, the report said.

For all those folks who keep telling me that 9/11 changed everything: wouldn't you hope that it didn't make us all more stupid, more lax, and more unable to plan for the worst-case scenarios? Because the feeling that I am getting is that domestic planning for natural disasters, domestic security crises and the like is the lowest priority on the Bush Administration's totem pole. Which makes all of us a helluva lot less safe today than we were six years ago.

I don't know about you all, but in our local communities, a large number of our guard and reserves folks come from our first responder ranks — police, volunteer fireman, medics, and the like, who need the extra income from continued military service to make ends meet for their families.  So many of them have been in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq, that some of our local police departments, especially, have had trouble keeping a full force patrolling in any given month.   Think about that for a moment in the context of homeland security planning for communities, large and small, and the lack of forethought that went into the worst-case scenario planning for the invasion and occupation of the mess in Iraq — the preemptively engaged mess in Iraq. 

And then ask yourself:  do I feel safer now than I did six years ago?  Do I want my government to plan for a disaster only after it has happened — or oughtn't they, especially in light of what we should have learned from all of the damage wrought on 9/11/01 and the subsequent disasters during Hurricane Katrina and after, start proactively planning for better performance, better training, better equipment, and everything else that goes into solid work on these issues?

From Speaker Pelosi's blog on this issue:

“Although the current Department of Defense Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support states that securing the U.S. homeland is “the first among many priorities,” the Defense Department in fact has not accepted that this responsibility requires planning, programming, and budgeting for civil support missions.”

The Administration’s near constant reliance on reserve units for active duty is resulting in greater reluctance by employers to hire reservists. The report mentions a Navy Times article, “Employers More Reluctant to Hire Reservists,” that cites a poll finding that 51 percent of respondents would not hire a reservist that could be “called up and taken away from their job for an indeterminate amount of time.”

“The DoD is not adequately equipping the National Guard for its domestic missions.”

The time for accountability is now.  BEFORE the next catastrophic disaster strikes…not after in the woulda, coulda, shoulda zone. 

(The AP via NYTimes has more.  And the full report can be found here.)