The City of Los Angeles must be prepared for any natural or man-made catastrophe. When disaster strikes, the City’s primary emergency responders (Fire and Police) will be first at the scene to provide aid to preserve and protect life and property. The Emergency Management Department would support response efforts by coordinating activities between key City departments and regional organizations at the City’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Additional relief support would be provided through designated and certified volunteer organizations, such as the American Red Cross and Salvation Army. But as relief efforts continue, the City may need to call on its employees, through the Disaster Service Worker (DSW) program, to assist in response and relief work.
The State of California designates all public sector employees, including the City’s civilian employees, as DSWs. DSWs are not expected to perform duties beyond their ability or skill set, but to supplement and support those who are specifically trained in disaster response and relief. Potential DSW duties include answering phone calls, delivering supplies, working in a shelter, translations, etc. Employees acting as DSWs are assigned within their scope of training, skill, ability and are not expected to provide medical treatment or aid in disaster response activities for which they are not qualified.
City employees serving in a critical function that is necessary to support the continuity of a department’s operations would not be called to serve as DSWs. Employees supporting critical functions such as the 911 call center, restoring water and power, providing traffic control, etc., would be performing those assignments. However, tens of thousands of so-called non-critical City employees, including administrative staff, would be appropriate for temporary reassignment as DSWs.
While the DSW program has never been activated by City leaders, the City must have effective processes in place to do so, and be able to rely on its employees to serve during or immediately after a disaster. Our review found that the City needs to improve its planning capabilities to efficiently and effectively deploy DSWs, and raise awareness about the program to ensure employees are fully equipped to answer the call to serve.
- The City does not have a database of employee contact information and skillsets to facilitate the deployment of Disaster Service Workers.
It is critical that employees can be reached during an emergency, not only for those who have roles in assuring the City’s continuity of operations, but also to serve as DSWs.
Of great concern is the reality that there is no true citywide contact database. Rather, each department is expected to collect and maintain emergency contact information for their employees. In surveying ten departments on how they would reach their employees for DSW deployment, we found they planned to use different methods, such as downloading data from the payroll system, collecting information from employees to transfer data into the City’s mass notification system (NotifyLA)1 or into a departmental database/spreadsheet, or by assuming they could rely on supervisors to have contact information for their staff.
Each of these methods presents challenges and limitations; attempts to retrieve the information during an actual emergency are not the most efficient or effective way to deploy DSWs.
- To improve DSW deployment practices, the Personnel Department should require all departments [with the support of City leaders] to maintain a complete and current listing of their employee contact information, including skill sets and other relevant information. A uniform method by which employees can update and self-certify their DSW information on-line would be optimal. In addition, employee DSW information should be maintained in a cloud-based customer relationship management software (CRM) program that can be available to the EOC.
- The City lacks a method to prioritize which departments or employees would be activated as DSWs.
When a major emergency or disaster occurs, incident commanders can request assistance to be provided by DSWs through the City’s EOC. Such a request would be fulfilled by the EOC after the Mayor has officially made a disaster proclamation to activate emergency protocols and the DSW program, through the EOC’s Personnel Department representative. However, we noted that the Personnel Department lacked a plan regarding which department(s) to prioritize for a DSW activation. This proves challenging, since one department indicated that none of its employees would be available because everyone would be busy restoring critical services for the City. A broader perspective would not just prioritize departments, but would consider citywide employees’ functional responsibilities, as well as their specific skills and duty preferences, location, and limitations.
- To improve DSW deployment practices, the Personnel Department should partner with the Emergency Management Department (EMD) to establish a method to prioritize departments and/or individual employees for DSW assignment/deployment.
LACK OF EMPLOYEE AWARENESS
- The City should better publicize the potential duties employees may be asked to perform as DSWs.
Employees should know what it means to be a DSW. The Emergency Management and Personnel departments have developed an extensive “DSW Toolkit” (Toolkit), which provides some examples of the various jobs that a DSW may perform. Identified duties are as diverse as animal care to food service to language interpreter. While the Toolkit is available to those directly working in personnel or emergency coordination roles, it is not shared with all employees that could benefit by knowing what to expect.
A general idea of the DSW role is provided through an online training course that employees are required to complete within thirty days of hire, but it lacks details noted in the Toolkit. As of July 2018, 91% of the City’s full-time employees were in compliance with the mandatory DSW training, but compliance drops to 58% for part-time employees.
- The Emergency Management and Personnel Departments should provide more detail on possible roles and responsibilities to City employees.
- While City employees take a loyalty oath and are apprised of their DSW responsibilities at initial hire, the City needs to clarify the consequences of not complying with that role.
Mayoral Executive Directive 15, states that an employee who fails to comply with their DSW duties may be subject to disciplinary action; however, there are no details about the range of personnel actions that could be taken should someone fail to report for duty.
During orientation, new employees are informed of their obligation to comply with the DSW program and administered a loyalty oath; however, new employees may be reluctant to express concerns about the DSW program. As experienced by Mendocino County during a DSW activation relative to that County’s fires, some employees simply failed to report for duty. Though officials noted “disciplinary actions” would be taken against those that promised to show up and ultimately did not, it was unclear what or how it would be enforced.
To mitigate risks related to ineffective deployment and potential disciplinary actions, the City of Los Angeles should couple ongoing training, drills, and awareness with clarifying information on the range of personnel actions that may be taken by the City, should an employee disregard their DSW assignment or related duties.
- To improve awareness of the DSW program, the Personnel Department should include DSW requirements in City job postings and ensure that all employees are aware that disciplinary actions may be taken should an employee not comply with a directive to serve as a DSW if they are reassigned from their regular job to specific DSW duties.
LACK OF TRAINING AND PREPARATION
- While one mandatory DSW training is required for new hires, there is no established refresher training to reinforce the program to employees.
More training is needed to reinforce employee awareness of their potential DSW responsibilities and required participation in the program. Since Departmental Personnel Officers (DPOs) are responsible for DSW training and would be key in actual deployment, they should know what DSWs may be called upon to do. While the DSW Toolkit should be a source of guidance for DPOs, during our survey of ten departments, none seemed aware of the Toolkit.
Additionally, since no refresher training is currently required, employees may go through their entire career with the City without revisiting the program’s requirements or potential DSW duties.
- The Emergency Management and Personnel Departments should update existing DSW training and require all City employees to take refresher training on a regularly scheduled basis. Further the Personnel Department should establish protocols for effective monitoring and compliance reporting for required refresher DSW training.
- The Personnel Department should develop standard trainings for all staff responsible for deploying DSWs in their departments in order to review DSW requirements, policies and procedures, available toolkits, and any guidance for selecting and deploying employees to DSW duties during an emergency.
- Since the inception of the DSW program, the City has held only one exercise drill (in 2015) to simulate the deployment of DSWs.
The EOC regularly performs drills to help prepare the City for assuring continuation of critical services by simulating various catastrophic scenarios. However, only once did the drill include a DSW activation. In 2015, an EOC functional exercise was conducted to simulate a large-scale Anthrax terrorist attack throughout Los Angeles County. The objectives of the exercise were to demonstrate effective activation of the DSW program to administer an antidote to victims of the bio-agent.
The exercise’s “After Action Report/Improvement Plan” noted that some DSWs were identified, but it noted that opportunities to enhance effectiveness and/or efficiency existed. Moreover, the Personnel Department indicated that while it reached out to departmental representatives to identify potential DSWs, the departments did not actually contact any City employees. Had they attempted or actually contacted employees for DSW assignment, they might have been able to gauge employee response, establish prioritizations, and identify additional potential issues to remedy.
By periodically holding comprehensive DSW drills and learning from those experiences, the City may be able to avoid some of the challenges noted by Sonoma County officials in an after action report of that area’s recent fires.
- EMD and the Personnel Department should test DSW deployment processes as part of the City’s annual EOC activation drills by communicating activation roles and responsibilities, with a select number of departments and employees being contacted.
While the City has never deployed its employees as DSWs, State law and City policy require that all civilian employees be ready, willing, and able to serve in that capacity. The City must be prepared to supplement its response efforts to any emergency or disaster by effectively deploying DSWs. Efficient methods to prioritize and assign City employees as DSWs is critical, and all employees should be aware of their responsibility and understand the duties they may be required to perform. To better prepare the EOC, departmental management, and individual employees, the City should address the issues noted in this review.
Review of the Report
On November 21, 2018, a draft of this report was provided to the Emergency Management Department (EMD) and Personnel. Neither department requested an exit conference or provided additional comments, and accepted all seven recommendations offered.
Based on our evaluation of each department’s action plans [included in Appendix II], we consider five recommendations to be “In Progress.” The recommendations relate to the following:
- deployment prioritization of employees and departments for DSW activations. (Recommendation #2).
- updating training for employees that could be reassigned as DSWs. (Recommendation #3).
- improving training for departmental personnel officers responsible for contacting potential DSWs. (Recommendation #5).
- increasing employee awareness by adding DSW requirement to all job postings and ensuring employees know the repercussions of non-compliance. (Recommendation #6).
- incorporating DSW deployment in annual EOC training exercises. (Recommendation #7).
We consider two recommendations as “Not Yet Implemented.” The recommendations relate to the following:
- implementing a complete, cloud-based citywide employee contact database. (Recommendation #1).
- establishing protocols for effective monitoring of DSW trainings. (Recommendation #4).
We thank both EMD and Personnel staff and management for their time and cooperation during this review.
1 On August 28, 2018, Controller Galperin issued a report entitled, Alert and Aware: Review of NotifyLA, the City’s Mass Notification System.