News

Overlapping authority, murky chain-of-command compound state’s homeland-security dilemma

A sharply worded study critical of California’s preparedness for a natural
catastrophe or massive terrorist attack is making the rounds of the Capitol,
contending that the governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) is not
sufficiently aggressive in taking the lead role of protecting the public.
Convoluted lines of authority, a lack of coordination with local authorities
and a failure to develop a first-rate prevention strategy are at the heart
of the problem, according to the report by the Little Hoover Commission.

“The state must put someone in charge,” the report says flatly, echoing the
concerns of key lawmakers who complain that the chain of command for a
massive emergency response is unclear. “The Legislature empowered the [OES]
“Yet despite these vast powers, the state is with tremendous authority, but it has not used that authority to ensure that California is prepared for a catastrophic event.” Instead, the report added,the OES “defines its role as coordinating resources in support of state and local agencies.”

The OES disagreed. “Command and control is very clear in California,” said
OES spokesman Eric Lamoreaux, “and we do that by coordinating the multiple
state agencies. OES, through its leadership role, brings the other agencies
together.”

Gov. Schwarzenegger has approved having outside experts study the problems
of California’s homeland-security system and come up with recommendations to
fix them. The study, called a “gap analysis,” will look at the interactions
between the state’s 42 agencies that play some role in homeland security,
including OES and the state Office of Homeland Security (OHS). The Senate
authorized $1 million in the state budget to pay for the analysis, although
that language was later changed to leave the exact dollar amount open-ended.

Whatever the price tag of the study, it will be financed by federal
pass-through money.

“The gap analysis will allow the Legislature to see what specifics can be
taken to better coordinate in emergencies and emergency preparation. In
emergency services, when you have a complex operation you can hire an expert
who will look at the big picture and see literally where there may be gaps
in the system,” said Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, head of the Senate’s
committee dealing with homeland security issues. “We [California] rated only
about 40 percent on the federal scale of emergency preparedness. Sacramento
and San Diego fell off the urban security funding list, so we also need to
examine the criteria by which the federal government decides,” she said.

The governor, the Little Hoover Commission said, “is authorized to use any
state resource to prepare for emergencies and respond. The law empowers the
governor to commandeer private facilities, equipment and personnel necessary
to support California’s safety. And he is authorized to work with the
president of the United States, federal agencies and the armed forces to
ensure preparedness.”

The report notes that the OES was created to serve as the direct instrument
of the governor, and is charged with acting aggressively–and unilaterally,
if need be–in the event of disaster.

The study also says that “without immediate action by the state of California, millions of Californians are at risk for injury, death or property damage in a catastrophic disaster … emergency have not trained for the job. The governor has not developed the emergency rules needed to streamline decisionmaking … the state has not conducted exercises to test its authority and capacity for catastrophic response or recovery.”

The 90-page report, released nine weeks ago, itself is not without its
critics. The newest member of the commission, Loren Kaye of Sacramento, was
appointed in March by Gov. Schwarzenegger. Kaye, a Republican and head of
the California Foundation for Commerce and Education, disagreed with the
tone and tenor of portions of the document.

Kaye, in an unusual formal dissent that accompanied the commission’s
document, said the “recommendations in this report are undermined by the
intensity of the rhetoric and weakness of the argument. … I do not believe
the evidence developed for the report justified many of the findings.” He
also said that the report’s language was “more strident in tenor than befits
the dignity and reputation of the commission.”

The report is the latest in a series of events targeting the configuration
and organization of California’s homeland-security system this year,
particularly the relationship of OHS and OES, the two entities at the top of
the state’s homeland-security system. In February, Legislative Analyst
Elizabeth Hill said the state’s security apparatus was disorganized, failed
to tap into federal dollars, and, in some cases, neglected to provide timely
reports to lawmakers. Hill recommended that OHS, which dispenses about $300
million annually to local governments in anti-terrorism funding, be placed
under the jurisdiction of OES.

However, unlike the subsequent report by the Little Hoover Commission, Hill
did not suggest that the state was seriously unprepared. Her study, rather,
focused more on the bureaucratic organization and roles of OHS and OES.
Kehoe, too, was concerned at the organization.

“OES has a long history for performing extremely well in a long history of
disasters and emergencies. It has been used as a national model, and it has
a great record of responding … but we think there needs to be a clear
chain of command,” she said.


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