OUR VIEW: Homeland Security snow cones: What will they think of next?

By Daily News • Last Updated 10:04 am on Thursday, April 12, 2012

We can all sleep soundly tonight knowing that when disaster strikes, Montcalm County is armed and ready to deploy its… snow cone machine?

That’s right, a snow cone machine.

Montcalm County recently was one of 13 West Michigan counties to receive a $900 Arctic Blast Sno-Cone machine from the Michigan Homeland Security Program. The county didn’t even ask for it. The machine just came. Another county wanted to trade its snow cone machine for a popcorn machine, but that was ruled a waste.

Of course, some government bureaucrat came up with a great explanation for why West Michigan needs 13 snow cone machines to keep us safe. Here it goes: The snow cone machine can make and shave ice that would be highly useful for filling ice packs to treat wounds or cool off exhausted patients in a disaster. Also, public safety agencies need to get the word out about Homeland Security, so what better way than enticing people to their booths with free snow cones.

Really? How far is the government planning to push this?

We could give away portable Build-a-Bear stations to emergency responders. The benefits of giving children a teddy bear during a traumatic emergency are well documented. Just think of how much better children would feel if they got to design and make their very own custom teddy bear minutes after a tornado.

Maybe portable hot dog carts aren’t a bad idea. They’re light and have lots of cubby holes to make storage a cinch. Most come with an umbrella to block the blazing sun or a steady rain. And who wouldn’t want a tasty hot dog in the heat of saving lives?

Better yet, maybe Montcalm County could get a grant to convert its mobile command post — a former FEMA trailer — into a county fair fries and elephant ears stand. Nutrition is key to keep responders and patients feeling their best. Plus, the ketchup for the french fries counts as a vegetable, according to the federal government, so they technically could be eating a balanced meal.

In all seriousness, the arguments in favor of passing around snow cone machines — or “ice shaving machines” as Emergency Services Director Dave Feldpausch prefers to call them — do have some merit. Ice can be a valuable commodity in a disaster situation.

The question is, how would the machine work if water is in short supply and the power is out? Would emergency crews divert water from thirsty patients and responders to fill ice packs? Did the machine come with a generator to produce electricity to operate it?

The motives appear laudable, but the end result is yet one more example of government spending run amok. Emergency preparedness is important. However, there has to be a clearer line between useful, necessary equipment and stuff that could be useful or necessary someday.

When the federal government spends $1.2 trillion — that’s “trillion” with a T — more than it takes in every year … when the state is shedding employees and critical programs left and right to balance its books … when many local emergency responders would be happy to just get the basic equipment they need to do their jobs properly … our government prioritizes an expenditure like snow cone machines for everyone, which may or may not be used for their intended purpose during a large-scale emergency many of us will see only once or twice in our lifetimes.

Maybe 10 years ago or someday in the future when the economy is booming, emergency snow cone machines might be a good idea. But the middle of a terrible economy with plummeting government revenue at all levels is no time to spend money on neat little extras.

Editorial opinions are a consensus of The Daily News editorial board.

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