Controller Says L.A. Needs to Prepare City Workers for When Disaster Strikes

LOS ANGELES- When earthquakes, fires or floods strike, L.A.’s public safety personnel rush to the scene, heroically doing all they can for Angelenos. But if a major disaster strikes, the City isn’t adequately prepared to activate the rest of its workforce to help out, reported L.A. Controller Ron Galperin in his latest report about the City’s Disaster Service Worker (DSW) program.

The DSW program, which has never been activated, authorizes City leaders to assign civilian employees to support first responders during major emergencies. Galperin observed that the City hasn’t assembled a centralized database of employee contact information, such as cell and home phone numbers and personal emails to reach out to employees in an emergency; the City currently lacks coherent DSW deployment procedures; and the City has failed to properly train and prepare employees if they need to be called up to duty.

“Los Angeles has weathered more than its fair share of destructive fires, floods and mudslides in recent years, and the threat of the Big One is always on the horizon,” L.A. Controller Ron Galperin said. “We have incredibly dedicated and talented City workers, and we need to be ready to deploy them to aid our first responders when a major disaster strikes. My report offers recommendations to improve the City’s Disaster Service Worker program and ensure that our employees are well-trained and ready to be called into action in case of emergency.”

Under City and state law, if disaster response and recovery efforts need support, DSWs may be assigned to such civilian duties as answering phones, delivering supplies, preparing food, filling sandbags and managing volunteers. According to Galperin’s report, the City needs to be better organized should the need arise to activate the DSW program.

Key players in any activation of the DSW program are the City’s Emergency Management Dept. (EMD) and Personnel Dept. “The Disaster Service Worker Program is an essential element of our City’s emergency response capabilities,” EMD General Manager Aram Sahakian said. “The 25th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake is a reminder that Los Angeles continues to face the risk of natural and man-made disasters, and the time will come when employees from all City departments will need to come together to help the City respond and recover.”

“I want to thank Controller Galperin for focusing attention on this vital issue,” said Personnel Dept. General Manager Wendy Macy. “Planning and preparation in anticipation of an emergency are what saves lives and property. The Personnel Department takes its responsibility very seriously to support the ongoing work of the Emergency Management Department, both in preparation for an emergency as well as in the time of an emergency.”

Controller Galperin’s report includes several common sense recommendations, including:

  • Create a cloud-based database of employee contact information: The City doesn’t have a centralized database of employee cell phone numbers, emails and addresses required for DSW deployment;
  • Develop procedures to identify which employees to deploy first: The City’s EMD and Personnel Dept. should develop ways to identify which departments and employees within those departments should be prioritized for deployment;
  • Implement regular DSW trainings for City employees; and
  • Test deployment during annual activation drills: City employees participate in annual emergency drills, but DSW deployment aren’t part of them. They should be.

The DSW report is the most recent in a series of reviews and audits issued by Controller Galperin evaluating the state of the City’s emergency preparedness capabilities. Other reports include a Review of NotifyLA; Audit of Information Technology, Disaster Preparedness, Recovery, and Continuity; and Fiscal Audit of the Emergency Management Department.

Follow L.A. Controller Ron Galperin at @LAController on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.