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Unformatted text preview: he replied, "Nope. It's pretty Green Zone here." Since then, privatized disaster response has become one of the hottest industries in the South. Just one year after Hurricane Katrina, a slew of new corporations had entered the market, promising safety and security should the A 50 HARPER'S MAGAZINE / OCTOBER 2007 Source photograph by FEMA News Photo next Big One hit. One of the more ambitious ventures was launched by a charter air service in West Palm Beach, Florida. Help Jet bills itself as "the world's first hurricane escape plan that turns a hurricane evacuation into a jet-setter vacation." When a storm is coming, the charter company books holidays for its members at five-star golf resorts, spas, or Disneyland. With the reservations made, the evacuees are then whisked out of the hurricane zone on a luxury jet. "No standing in lines, no hassle with crowds, just a first class experience that turns a problem into a vacation .... Enjoy the feeling of avoiding the usual hurricane evacuation nightmare." For the people left behind, there is a different kind of privatized solution. In 2006, the Red Cross signed a new disaster-response partnership with Wal-Mart. "It's all going to be private enterprise before it's over," said Billy Wagner, chief of emergency management for the Florida Keys. "They've got the expertise. They've got the resources." He was speaking at the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando, Florida, a fast-growing annual trade show for the companies selling everything that might come in handy during the next disaster. Dave Blandford, an exhibitor showing off his "self-heating meals" at the conference, observed: "Some folks here said, 'Man, this is huge business-this is my new business. I'm not in the landscaping business anymore; I'm going to be a hurricane-debris contractor.''' Much of the parallel disaster economy has been built with taxpayers' money, thanks to the boom in privatized war-zone reconstruction. The giant contractors that have served as "the primes" in Iraq and Afghanistan have spent large portions of their income from government contracts on their own corporate overhead-between 20 and 55 percent, according to a 2006 audit of Iraq contractors. Much of those funds has, quite legally, gone into huge investments in corporate equipment, such as Bechtel's battalions of earth movers, Halliburton's fleets of planes and trucks, and the surveillance architecture built by L-3, CACI, and Booz Allen. Most dramatic has been Blackwater's investment in its paramilitary infrastructure. Founded in 1996, the company has used its steady stream of contracts to build up a private army of 20,000 on-call mercenary soldiers and a military base in North Carolina worth between $40 million and $50 million. It reportedly has the ability to field massive humanitarian operations faster than the Red Cross, and boasts a fleet of aircraft ranging from helicopter gunships to a Boeing 767.2 Blackwater has been called &qu...
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