ACCORDING TO LIZ - Last week Ron Galperin released another of his excellent reports, this time dropping the bombshell on the Mayor and City Council that they really, truly MUST improve emergency preparedness – people, plans and provisions – for the people of Los Angeles.
A number of the issues raised in Ron’s report have been addressed again and again by the Budget Advocates, by the Neighborhood Council Emergency Preparedness Alliance, and by many other professionals of all backgrounds who are concerned about potential dangers we all will face when the next unexpected event rocks the Southland.
City Hall and Angelenos must take the goals of Galperin’s report at face value. However no-one should blame the Emergency Management Department (EMD). The fault lies entirely with the City and specifically with Eric Garcetti.
As reported in Budget Advocates’ White Papers for the past half-decade and blatantly disregarded by the Mayor, to achieve the excellent ends called for by the Controller and more, the department needs to be adequately funded.
Funded to the point that it can pay existing staff, avoid further lay-offs, hire the personnel necessary to sustain the department’s work, train and retain them, staff the Emergency Operations Centers, review and upgrade plans for residents and businesses, for the City itself, and work with its partners around the state and across the country.
The time to address these concerns is not after the next Big One hits, when water and sewer infrastructure collapses and cholera runs rampant.
The time is now.
The EMD has already developed plans for a plethora of emergencies. It had some in place for epidemics which contributed to the ability of Los Angeles to react swiftly in March of 2020. However, as the result of having staffing slashed in the interest of righting the capsized City budget in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown and, having been starved for funds ever since, all plans definitely need updating.
Although cybercrimes certainly are an increasing concern, the technological aspects fall under the purview of the ITA and but the EMD has plans in place for the aftermath – the economic survival of the City in the wake of cyberattacks as well as other emergencies.
Climate change per se may not have been on its pre-existing lists of emergencies but the consequences – drought, flooding and wildfires – certainly were. And collateral damage such as food scarcity and water shortages were in the department’s plans.
Networking with Federal, State and, especially, County agencies is already built into EMD infrastructure through including their representatives in the staffing of the Emergency Management Center (EOC), so emergency responses are integrated between the various entities.
The Budget Advocates vigorously pursued the need for more funding for emergency services but City Hall hasn’t heard – or, more correctly, while paying lip-service to this advocacy, the Budget and Finance Committee and the entire City Council have followed our Pied Piper Mayor’s lead to prioritize anything but what might save the City in the event of a disaster.
Furthermore, under Garcetti, a number of elements for emergency response have been farmed out through the Neighborhood Council system. Is this is a wise way to conserve City cash given that many of these volunteers turn over before they can adequately learn responsibilities let alone comfortably integrate within a structured response?
Angelenos deserve a more professional approach.
As Ron suggests, a tier of secondary support of City employees must be designated and trained to augment EMD staff. As has been pointed out repeatedly in recent years, the department currently does not have the manpower to operate the EOC 24-7 for more than a week or two, if that.
How many emergencies have Angelenos lived through that are over and done in five days?
During the pandemic some of its responsibilities, specifically sourcing PPE, were turned over to the General Services Department which has a far larger budget and more staff. Such needs could be accommodated in a primarily 9 to 5 business environment and the resultant success was lauded by the Mayor as a more efficient way to use City resources.
But this will NOT be the case for most emergencies. Earthquakes don’t keep bankers’ hours. Wildfires don’t conveniently take naps at night and floods don’t roll up the carpet on weekends.
Nor should we.
One dollar per person per year would double the EMD’s budget.
But the City must not wait to go out hat in hand. It needs to allocate funds NOW to take the department off life support and put it back on the path to self-sufficiency and the ability to rescue us when the Big One hits, when the water system fails, when terrorists take out essential services.
It needs to stop micromanaging department hires. The EMD needs, we need, the best the country has to offer and we need them now.
Yes, the police and fire departments can help but their personnel will be prioritized elsewhere during most emergencies and are hard to integrate under the direct authority of the EMD since their primary supervisors will continue to be in their own departments.
These departments, especially, know that chain of command is crucial in emergency situations where every second is critical.
And while volunteers at the neighborhood level will be essential, training and the ability to respond must be better coordinated.
CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training can provide a bridge but, again, CERT emphasizes the importance of coordinated response under the leadership of qualified personnel with plenty of practice under their belts.
Another factor is the need to bring all Angelenos up to speed on the dangers of living in southern California and gift them with training on how to help their households in the short term when communications may be shut off for extended periods of time.
If someone in their household is dependent on power – oxygen, warmth, sleep apnea aids – thinking about buying a generator after the electricity fails… could be fatal.
The City government may not want to scare folks but everyone needs to know what to do to survive. And this means addressing the fact that for too many families in Los Angeles the adults work multiple jobs and do not have the time to spare to learn such skills or the money to stockpile supplies.
The plight of the homeless must also be faced, especially since their living situations may actually contribute to the dangers.
One place to start is within the schools. After reading and writing, basic survival skills and access to materials can be taught for every child to take home. And the libraries can do their part.
In fact an integrated solution is essential. Endemic siloization within the City bureaucracy must be blasted apart in favor of a City working together to overcome obstacles.
The time to fund our survival is now so we can build a brighter future together.
(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.)