Audit shows slow progress on L.A. emergency preparedness

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(CNS) – Four years after the city was warned about its flagging emergency preparedness, only modest progress has been made toward developing a comprehensive disaster response plan, according to an audit released today by City Controller Wendy Greuel.

Less than half of the 56 recommendations in a 2008 audit of the city’s emergency readiness strategy have been met, according to the audit.

Greuel’s audit highlighted some successes, including a new Emergency Operations Center for coordinating the city’s emergency planning, response and recovery efforts, and an agreement with the American Red Cross to boost emergency readiness.

Among the main issues still unresolved is poor cooperation between the city’s Emergency Management Department and the five other disaster-relevant city departments — the Airport, Port, Convention Center and the Transportation and Recreation and Parks departments, according to the audit.

The city also lacks a satisfactory plan for sheltering people in the wake of a major disaster, according to Greuel. Many of the city’s park facilities that have been identified as possible shelter locations have not been measured for seismic safety and do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the audit found.

Additionally, the city does not have an adequate plan to locate the most vulnerable residents during an emergency, the audit determined.

“Los Angeles is vulnerable to a multitude of disasters from earthquakes, mudslides and fires, to terrorist and other man-made threats, and we need a world-class response plan to fulfill our most important obligation of ensuring the safety of all Angelenos,” said Greuel, who is running for mayor. “I urge the mayor and council to take a hard look at my audit and implement its recommendations.”

Emergency Management Director James Featherstone was out of town and not available for comment, according to an assistant.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last week issued an executive order directing all city departments to update their emergency plans to accommodate people with disabilities up to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s standards during emergency notifications and for sheltering.

The mayor also announced an agreement with the Red Cross in March to boost the city’s disaster preparedness. The PrepareSocal initiative aims to boost the number of available shelter spaces during a natural disaster from an estimated 210,000 today to 500,000, and increase the number of trained disaster volunteers from about 1,500 to 4,000.

The Red Cross also hopes to increase its capacity to be able to distribute 4 million meals per day during a natural disaster, up from about 1.8 million today.

Greuel acknowledged the economic recession and city and state budget crises have hindered the city’s efforts to hire enough staff to coordinate emergency preparedness activities or to pay for training and exercises.

The audit recommends changing the city’s administrative code to give the Emergency Management Department more authority to oversee emergency readiness in other city departments.

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