Big City Emergency Management Audits

In October of 2022, audit reports were released for the emergency management offices for the two largest cities in the US – interestingly enough conducted by controller’s offices. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office conducted an audit of NYC Emergency Management, while City of Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin’s office conducted an audit of LA’s Emergency Management Department. While these audits were conducted by controller’s offices, they were not only financial. In fact, both audits contained considerable programmatic assessment.

Before I get into the findings of the audits, there are a few things I want to express. First off, I think third party audits are great. Organizations are supposed to be taking certain actions – either dictated by mandate, devised by their own commitment, or encouraged by demonstrated need – and so often fall short in execution. We can all make excuses, many of them justifiable and valid, as to why actions weren’t taken or completed, and while an external evaluation may lack important context, they can help keep us on track. All that said, I wonder who the people were conducting the audits. Do they have any backgrounds in emergency management? Is that even necessary? Certainly, emergency management is a complex system of systems, that non-emergency managers could understand, but did the auditors have that understanding? It seems to be a failure right off that only emergency management offices were audited and not emergency management programs of those jurisdictions. I think we have great precedent and understanding of that demonstrated by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP), as their accreditation reviews are of programs, not just agencies. Those items expressed, let’s get to the meat of the audits. Feel free to dive into the audits for additional information.

The New York City audit zeroed in on three key areas:

  1. Hazard mitigation planning deficiencies
  2. Lack of updating evacuation plans
  3. Gaps in continuity of operations (COOP) planning and exercises

The LA audit listed these key findings:

  1. Gaps in planning for specific hazards, such as cyberattacks, climate change, and drought
  2. Lack of assistance provided to other city agencies for emergency planning and COOP planning
  3. Deficiencies in tracking qualifications and credentials of designed emergency operations center (EOC) staff
  4. An observation that training and exercises decreased during the pandemic, but noting that the department is reorganizing its training and exercise program
  5. Failure to adequately track all corrective actions from exercises, incidents, and events
  6. Lack of supply and equipment assessments to support city preparedness

Both audits identified needs to create or update plans, and also called on the emergency management offices to better support other city agencies in the development and maintenance of emergency plans and COOP plans. Given that planning is the foundation of emergency management, this should certainly be a priority for every emergency management agency and program. While these audits were not centered on emergency management programs for the jurisdictions, I did appreciate that they identified city-wide gaps in planning. While I feel that each agency should be responsible for its own plans – and certainly city agencies of that size should have their own emergency management specialists – they should still be able to count on some support from the city emergency management office.

I find it interesting that the NYC audit honed in considerably on deficiencies in hazard mitigation planning, while the LA audit cited the hazard mitigation plan but didn’t have any criticisms. Overall, the two audits provided some very different perspectives in their concerns, with the NYC audit focused on known issues (i.e. identified hazard mitigation measures, evacuation plans); while the LA audit had considerable focus on emerging matters. Neither audit was big on identifying what agencies did well, which I think is a deficiency of the audits.

The NYC audit included a rebuttal from OEM, though the LA audit did not include any rebuttal from EMD.

Overall, the audits identify deficiencies which I think are common across many local and state emergency management agencies, not just those of big cities. While there are excuses and justifications, the items listed seem fair. As mentioned, though, emergency management is a complex system of systems, opening a lot of opportunity for things to be missed or mishandled. Emergency management is also not just a responsibility of emergency management agencies. Further, when we get into response mode, we tend to forsake many other activities. This was exacerbated considerably by COVID-19 and other disasters that occurred during the pandemic. We all have room for improvement.

What have you learned from this that you can apply to your own agency or program? Are there any external entities that audit or review your emergency management agency or programs?

© 2023 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

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