Report 2002-113 Summary - July 2003

Governor's Office of Emergency Services:

Its Oversight of the State's Emergency Plans and Procedures Needs Improvement While Its Future Ability to Respond to Emergencies May Be Hampered by Aging Equipment and Funding Concerns

HIGHLIGHTS

Our review of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services' (OES) and counties' ability to coordinate and respond to multijurisdictional and multiagency emergencies revealed the following:

  • OES lacks a formal process to regularly review and update the State Emergency Plan and its related annexes.
  • OES does not consistently perform activities needed to evaluate and improve its coordination of emergency responses under the Standardized Emergency Management System.
  • Clarification of the roles and responsibilities of the State's Office of Homeland Security and OES would be beneficial.
  • With aging equipment and other equipment not in place, OES's ability to task its own resources during an emergency may be limited.

The six county emergency operation centers (EOCs) we reviewed generally have adequate emergency response plans and training, however, OES's recent survey of county EOCs revealed that many are in need of better equipment and potentially costly upgrades.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

From fires, floods, earthquakes, civil disturbances and storms, California has experienced a series of disasters since 1997. These disasters highlight the importance of an effective emergency response system in California. Established in 1970 under the California Emergency Services Act (act), the Governor's Office of Emergency Services (OES) serves as the lead emergency management agency in California. OES's mission is to ensure that the State is ready and able to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from the effects of emergencies that threaten lives, property, and the environment. In fulfilling its responsibilities under the act, OES is responsible for assuring the State's readiness to respond and recover from natural, man-made, and war-caused emergencies. It is also responsible for assisting local governments in their emergency preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. Among these activities are OES's efforts to update the State Emergency Plan (emergency plan) and related annexes, assess the adequacy of the Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS), and identify weaknesses in its own performance during past emergencies while applying any lessons learned.

While OES has developed an emergency plan and related annexes that appear to provide adequate guidance to agencies responding to an emergency, our audit reveals a lack of formal processes to ensure that the emergency plan and related annexes are regularly reviewed and then updated when necessary. Additionally, OES is not consistently evaluating the use of SEMS by preparing statutorily required after-action reports following declared disasters or through regular meetings of its SEMS advisory board and technical group. While other agencies we interviewed believe that OES does well in coordinating emergencies, OES does not always approve requests for resources within its own time guidelines. Similarly, OES does not enter key data into the Response Information Management System (RIMS)—a computer system it uses to track resource requests—that would allow it to determine whether resources that OES has tasked arrive at emergencies in a timely manner. Without a formal and regular review of the emergency plan and related annexes, SEMS procedures, and its own performance, OES is missing opportunities to develop operational capabilities and improve emergency responses to future disasters. Finally, we noted that OES has not always identified the critical training that its staff working in state and regional emergency operations centers need to effectively complete their duties. According to OES, it lacks the funding to develop and implement training requirements for its staff.

Further, clarification of the roles and responsibilities of the State's new Office of Homeland Security (OHS) and OES would be beneficial. The authority provided to OES under the act and the authority provided to OHS by the governor's February 2003 executive order appear to have the potential to overlap. Moreover, the directors of the two offices appear to have differing views on their roles and responsibilities. A lack of clarity in their respective roles and responsibilities could adversely affect the State's ability to respond to emergencies.

OES also has had difficulty acquiring and maintaining emergency response and communication equipment due to what it asserts is inadequate funding. For example, 26 percent of OES's fleet of 115 fire engines have been in service longer than the 17-year useful life that OES has adopted. OES considers these fire engines—which are kept and staffed by local governments—as the State's contribution to the statewide fire and rescue mutual aid system. OES has recently acquired sufficient budgetary funding and allocated a portion of its budget to begin replacing its aging fire engines. In addition, despite a legislative mandate to have heavy urban search and rescue units, OES has none of these units, which are used to help extricate people from collapsed structures. OES requested funding for 18 units in fiscal year 2001-02, but this funding was not provided. However, OES has not performed a current analysis to determine how many heavy urban search and rescue units are needed in the State in order to appropriately respond to an emergency. With aging equipment, and other equipment not in place, OES's ability to task its own resources during an emergency may be limited. Our audit also finds that OES has not tried to establish the thermal imaging equipment-purchasing program required by law. This purchasing program is intended to use the State's buying power to obtain this equipment at a lower price, and for OES to pay half of the cost for the equipment on behalf of interested local governments. The law also allows local governments to purchase this equipment directly from the vendor that OES contracts with—at a lower price than they could obtain on their own—if they choose. While OES believes that it will be extremely difficult to implement this program absent a funding allocation, the law requires OES to start the program with its own funds or other sources. Further, OES could have established this purchasing program to give local governments access to lower cost thermal imaging equipment.

Also presenting a problem for OES is its backup communications system, a satellite network called OASIS—Operational Area Satellite Information System—which is degrading and threatens to limit OES's ability to coordinate with local governments should telephone communications become disabled during a major emergency.

Finally, our review of six county emergency operation centers (EOCs) reveals that most have adequate emergency response plans incorporating the use of SEMS. We also note that the six EOCs have taken adequate steps to prepare their staff for emergencies by training them in SEMS procedures and the use of RIMS. Most of these EOCs also perform tabletop and functional or full-scale exercises to practice the skills their emergency management personnel acquired from the training classes while identifying any difficulties they could encounter during an actual disaster. However, even though the EOCs we visited appear to have adequate plans and training, a survey that OES performed of all counties' primary and alternate EOCs reveals that many need better equipment and potentially costly upgrades. As a result, many EOCs may be unable to manage emergencies without any disruption to their operations. OES is using the results of its survey to obtain federal funding to address some of the weaknesses uncovered by its assessment of all county EOCs.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To ensure that the emergency plan and related annexes are regularly evaluated and updated when necessary, OES should develop and follow formal procedures for conducting regular assessments of these documents and then update them when necessary.

To ensure that SEMS remains a workable method to respond to emergencies, OES should more consistently evaluate its use and identify areas of weaknesses and needed improvements. Specifically, OES should do the following:

  • Institute internal controls to ensure it receives after-action reports from all responding entities to an emergency, such as requiring after-action reports prior to reimbursing local agencies for response-related personnel costs. Further, OES should ensure that the reports by local governments evaluate the use of SEMS for any needed improvements and enhancements.
  • Prepare after-action reports after each declared disaster that review emergency response and recovery activities.
  • Develop a system that tracks weaknesses noted in the after-action reports, which unit is responsible for correcting those weaknesses, and what corrective actions were taken for each weakness.
  • Reconvene the SEMS advisory board and technical group to foster more communication among emergency response agencies on the use of SEMS and to provide OES advice and recommendations on SEMS.

To evaluate its own performance during emergencies and identify areas for improvement, OES should ensure that it can track how long it takes to approve resource requests and pinpoint when those resources arrived at the emergency. To help facilitate this process, OES should use RIMS to accurately capture this information for subsequent analysis.

To help ensure that OES's Fire and Rescue Branch efficiently approves and tracks resource requests, OES should use an automated system to accurately track these requests and record arrival times. That automated system should be RIMS unless OES can sufficiently justify the additional benefits and expense of using another system. Further, because it indicated in the feasibility study report for RIMS that the Fire and Rescue Branch would use RIMS, OES should ensure that the scope of future information technology systems is clearly disclosed to parties that decide whether to fund these systems.

To ensure that the State is adequately prepared to address emergencies, OHS should work with the governor on how to best clarify the roles and responsibilities of OHS and OES.

To ensure that it and local governments have the equipment needed to be adequately prepared for emergencies, OES should take the following actions:

  • For its fire engine program, OES should continue with its schedule for replacing older and poor performing fire engines in the fleet.
  • To meet its statutory requirement to acquire and maintain heavy urban search and rescue equipment, OES should perform a needs analysis to determine the number of these units that are required to respond to a major earthquake. As part of this analysis and to assess where more units should be placed, OES should create and maintain records of the existing urban search and rescue capacity in the State. If this needs analysis concludes that additional units are required, OES should submit a budget change proposal to acquire this equipment and develop a maintenance and replacement schedule for it.
  • To allow local governments access to thermal imaging equipment at a lower cost, OES should initiate the statutorily required steps to establish a purchasing program for this equipment. These steps should include determining the interest of local governments in purchasing this equipment. OES should identify grants, private corporations, or other sources, including its own funding, to pay its half-share of the equipment cost. However, if OES determines that it cannot identify funding for its share of the cost, OES should explore the use of the State's buying power to enter into a contract that allows local governments to purchase this equipment at a lower cost.
  • To ensure that it has a backup system to communicate with local governments and agencies during a major disaster, OES should study options to extend the life of or replace OASIS. However, if it concludes that OASIS should be replaced, OES should justify this replacement by demonstrating that maintenance costs are exorbitant and that OASIS is down for excessive periods for repair. Further, OES should work with the Department of General Services to resolve the delay in obtaining an approved contract for a vendor to maintain OASIS and, in the future, prepare and submit contracts to allow sufficient time for Department of General Services' review and approval.

AGENCY COMMENTS

OHS and OES agreed with each of our recommendations and provided clarifying comments for several issues raised in the report.


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