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Tue, Jul

LA City Government’s Departmental Silos Threaten Emergency Response for Growing Climate Crisis

VOICES

ACCORDING TO LIZ - The kind of silos Los Angeles city government suffers from aren’t erected on farms but between departments, at a time when more than ever management and personnel need to work together to address the challenges already facing the City and coming full speed down the pipeline. 

The greatest of these being climate change. 

Last week a fire raged to the north of us, harbinger of many more to come, while the new City budget is starving the Emergency Management Department (EMD) of resources that are vital to ensure the safety of the City following any natural or manmade disaster. 

To quote Dogwood News, a British Columbia publication opposed to oil and gas proliferation in that province: “Most experts interviewed about wildfires focus on tips for keeping our homes safe once a fire is out of control. The elephant in the room is the pollution that created the climate conditions that got it started, and helped it spread, in the first place.” 

And continues: “They should be aggressively looking for ways to transition our buildings, roads and economy off fossil fuels. And they need to be working a heck of a lot harder finding ways to minimize the fires and droughts coming that are already too late to stop. Time for our government to wake up. We’re running out of water and we’re running out of time.” 

That should be a wake-up call for Los Angeles as well. 

It’s incredibly important to have guidelines for preventing not only death and destruction but to address and depose the causes that create and/or magnify disasters in the first place by reversing climate change through the targeting of underlying causes to mitigate impacts. 

There is predictive analysis and planning, and then there is response and action. Without adequate funding, nothing will be of the quality necessary to save inhabitants and infrastructure, ensure continuation of its operations and industries, and protect the City’s government and financial stability in the event of any significant emergency. 

And then there is the elephant-in-the-room micro-management approach that delayed approval of immediate funding to assist Angelenos affected during the fireworks explosion disaster three years ago this Sunday. 

Holding emergency response hostage until the City Council can meet, debate, and approve disbursements, is just plain poor public policy. Especially in the aftermath of a major disaster when power will be out, communications networks down, and transportation impossible. 

The Adopted Budget has yet to be posted but the Mayor’s Proposed Budget for fiscal year 2024-25, allocated a scant $4.2 million to the EMD, while raining down over $800 million on the Fire Department and almost $2 billion on the Police Department. 

That the Mayor insists on splitting off some of the EMD’s responsibilities and allocating needed resources to other departments further complicates responses to complex situations. 

There are huge benefits to breaking departments and entities out of their silos, out of their fiefdoms to build cross-support between the City government, private industry and non-profits/NGOs. To build on what already exists, expanding collaborations, rather than create another layer of bureaucracy. 

Too much City business is still transacted in back rooms under the auspices of those seeking power or money or both, and the echoes of political patronage encourage divisiveness. 

The micro-emergencies the LAFD and LAPD address on a daily basis are severe but fall into predictable categories that are planned for, and for which they can easily find personnel and funds in their multi-million-dollar budgets. And we comment the effective and expeditious execution of responses to explosions, brush fires, paramedic callouts, robberies, murders, and crowd control. 

But it’s the Big Ones we have to worry about.

 The recently released Draft Hazard Mitigation Report (DHMR) for Los Angeles recommends splitting leadership between a dozen departments. That’s a recipe for disaster, no pun intended. Continued siloization and petty rivalries have no future in protecting the City. 

To effectively address existential hazards, there has to be one lead agency whose sole purview is to plan and to act. And that has complete authority in an emergency, and not be hobbled by dithering or unavailable politicians. 

Or department heads steering resources in other directions. 

Some of the DHMR’s crop of recommendations appear to be duplications of projects already in process or are what should be obvious maintenance included in existing budgets. Begging the question if these were added to leverage more funds for specific departments. 

Others, such as bus shelters, have already attracted third-party profiteers by the score. 

This scattering of priorities between different departments does a profound disservice to Angelenos – one entity should be in charge and properly funded for both oversight and to execute. 

All information should be disseminated through one trusted central source; all online data should be centralized so everyone can make use of it, and the websites are built to interface easily. 

There can be no collaborating without real communication with every Angeleno. 

Very few recommendations specifically addressed the need for inter-agency cooperation although that is key for any emergency. The EMD’s Emergency Operations Center is one shining example of what works. The mitigations assigned to the EMD under the DHMR are bigger picture, but how can they even begin without better funding? With no pad in their budget. 

Other parts of the EMD’s mission are to maximize opportunities for community readiness and engagement, solidify the City’s operational capability, facilitate community response to major  disasters, and set the conditions for recovery. 

Knowledge is power. The more Angelenos know about potential emergencies, how best to defend themselves, their families, and neighbors from serious harm, and how to help the first defenders and the City during and following a disaster, the more salubrious the outcome. 

The ravages of climate change are already upon us. 

The more the City empowers the one department with specific focus and experience in preparing it for, and responding to, these and other emergencies, the greater the chance that Los Angeles will not only survive a catastrophe but will swiftly reclaim its place as a thriving metropolis.

(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.  In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)