Banapis and Jon are going to shoot me.
I don’t think the Mercy and Comfort even if fully staffed and crewed would be suitable ships to respond to a disaster that quickly. They have to slow of a steaming speed. What you really need here is a speed demon that can make up any time lost getting to sea by steaming at extremely high speed. I’d want a ship that could maintain over 35 knots easy with a capability to push over 40 knots. The only ship I can think of that fits the bill is the former liner United States.
With aluminum hull, sleek hull design, and massive engines she has an edge on even the fastest large warships with a top speed of 43+ knots. If you cut away the entire superstructure astern of the funnels then you should be able to fit a helicopter deck and facilities onboard that are larger than what the Mercy class has. I would say you could fit 2,000 bed ward, one or two large compartments for refugees, Now if they actually converted the Unites States to this use you would still only have coverage. Ideally I would sat convert the Big and then start building a class of vessels similar to her purpose built with the same horsepower and hull specs.
Waterpanther: For four months of the year, July-October, have the Mercy and the Comfort staffed and ready to go. Stand them out to sea to follow a storm in as the Bataan did.
I assume by your standard that the only people who deserve quick rescue by sea are those who happen to be struck by a hurricane. What happens the first time a earthquake hits or terrorist attack outside your hurricane watch? I assume you would be willing to be roasted by the national media and armchair emergency management professionals for being clueless in their opinions on disaster management.
Assuming the ships I mentioned above consider the following:
You would need at least 3 ships to maintain any semblance of 365 around the year coverage on both coasts. Even then you would be pushing it with some gaps in your coverage on one coast or the other. So you would need at least four ships and four crews. That way you could keep two crews on at least two ships at any given time. One crew would be on 245 hour recall status. Say you rotate the crews every week between the ships on alert. You have two crews onboard two ships with 24 hour surge status to anywhere in the nation. One crew on 24 hour recall status with the ship set to surge in 5 days and the fourth crew in down status.
This would be hideously expensive. Without the cost of building the ships they would still be awful expensive. To maintain the crew level, maintain the ships and maintaining them at surge status with crews you are probably looking at a cool $1.2 billion a year or say $35 million a ship in operation costs. This is based on some quick figuring from FY1996 for similar sized naval vessels to the cost are likely much higher now.
So say a cool $1.2 to $1.5 billion a year.
"History has proven too often and too recently that the nation which relaxes its defenses invites attack."
-Fleet Admiral Nimitz
"Their sailors say they should have flight pay and sub pay both -- they're in the air half the time, under the water the other half""
- Ernie Pyle: Aboard a DE