After 18 years in southern California and three rounds of fire storms on a scale that is difficult to imagine, I still find myself amazed at how little is the actual damage compared to what would happen in the face of even a slightly less talented team of professionals. The public bryond the region may be a little indifferent to the smooth operation of the fire suppresion effort here. Afetr all, close to 2,000 homes were lost, and the blazes continue to run across some areas even though the Santa Ana winds have disappeared.
It has been and continues to be a massive operation, and it is often working not in a vast expanse of wilderness, but mere yards and sometimes only a few feet away from human dwellings. The thousands of firefighters and hundreds of machines are involved in manuevers that are intricate beyond the ability of a camera or a pen to capture, and the force of the wind and flames they battled defy conventional description, though the people of California are deeply appreciative of their courage and their commitment.
Behind these front line firefighters was a command structure used to issuing quick orders and mandating evacuation or redployment of resources as the circumstances warranted. The first day of the fire crisis contrasted sharply with the hours after the levees broke in New orleans two years ago. Officals did not hesitate, and while the destruction was immense, their collective quick action kept a disaster from becoming epic. County sheriffs worked with county fire chiefs, and the state bureaucracy, led ably bu Arnold, brought support to bear wherever it could as soon as was possible. No doubt mistakes were made, but only of the sort that are inevitable given the scale of the challenge.
All of which goes to show what we already know but which is crucial to remember as the campaign for the White House goes into overdrive: The most improtant aspect of a president's job is that he (or she) be able to handle the demands of genuine crisis with calm and courageous action, that even daunting challenges not cause the knees to buckle or the mind to fog, and that the team the next president assembles be as talented as that working its way through this week's catastrophes in the Golden State.
Not all would-be executives bring the energy or the skills to lead under such circumstances. The next year should be spent asking who do we want at 1600 Pennsylvania whengreat challenges arrive demanding urgent action?
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