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Office of Emergency Services audit
reveals management deficiencies

Conroy agrees to Budget and Finance Committee recommendations

OES Director AnneMarie Conroy responds to Budget and Finance Committee concerns
of OES management deficiencies highligted in a recent OES audit report.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Aldrich M. Tan

May 18, 2006

Members of the Board of Supervisors conducted a hearing discussing the recent management audit of the Office of Emergency Services at the Budget and Finance Committee on Wednesday.

"The serious deficiencies that we have documented show that the office has not operated in the most efficient matter," budget analyst Harvey Rose said.

Budget Analyst Harvey Rose

Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Sean Elsbernd, Ross Mirkarimi, Chris Daly and Michela Alioto-Pier, along with other agencies and members of the public, questioned the efficiency of both the agency and Executive Director Annemarie Conroy's management of the city's emergency services.

The supervisors worked with Conroy and the budget analysts to find consensus on recommendations that the agency partially agreed to, or made no comment on. Out of 32 total recommendations, the agency partially agreed on five, disagreed on three, and had no comment on two, which included the termination of Conroy's position.

Peskin said he will be introducing a motion to develop a select committee regarding emergency response at next Tuesday's Board of Supervisors' meeting. Peskin invited Supervisors Alioto-Pier and Mirkarimi to be part of that proposed committee.

"As residents celebrate the anniversary of earthquake and devastation of New Orleans, which is a reminder of what not to do, it is appropriate for the city to develop disaster readiness," Peskin said.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin

Requested by the Board of Supervisors last September, the Budget Analyst conducted the management audit of the agency from Nov. 10, 2005 to May 7, 2006 and published the latest version of the audit on May 15.

The audit made 72 findings criticizing the agency's communication and coordination, legislative authority, strategic planning, grants and budget planning and allocation, financial management, training, equipment, response and staffing.

Implementation of the recommendations would have a one-time cost of $1.47 million, Rose said.

In her response, Conroy told the committee, "We have had some growing pains."

Conroy listed several of the Office of Emergency Service's accomplishments, including the agency's 72hours.org Web site, which won the Webby award. The Office is looking at developing a care and shelter emergency plan, an animal care annex, a terrorism annex, and a new notification system that would allow citizens to sign up for emergency alert text messages.

Conroy added that the office has had 29 citywide training exercises since 2004 which includes 8,310 personnel trainings. Large salaries that were originally listed as salaries were in fact overtime for police and fire officials to provide training, Conroy said.

Conroy said the agency has been working with the Controller's Office to refine the numbers related to overtime training. Controller Ed Harrington confirmed that Conroy asked the Controller's Office to verify that $6.7 million of the Office of Emergency Service's spending indeed went to overtime for training members of the police, fire, sheriff, MUNI, medical examiner, public works, and the emergency communications departments.

Budget analyst Debra Newman said her agency had constantly requested the numbers regarding training information, cost information, and exercise data but the Office of Emergency Service did not comply with the request.

"This is the first time that we saw these numbers," Newman said.

The Budget Analyst did receive 30 letters from various organizations including city departments speaking in support of the Office of Emergency Services, including the California Office of Homeland Security and the Public Utilities Commission.

"The progress your department has made preparing the city for disaster is significant," Deputy Chief Greg Suhr of the San Francisco Police Department wrote to OES in regards to the Budget Audit.

Although Conroy received a letter in support of from the Public Utilities Commission, Peskin presented an email from John Rodgers, a Public Utilities Commission official, stating opposing remarks.

While the Public Utilities Commission and the Pacific Gas and Electric Company worked collaboratively to develop emergency plans, the Office of Emergency Services had not offered support for such planning efforts, or incorporated information from that planning effort into the city's plans, Rodgers said.

Supervisor Alioto-Pier asked Conroy if the Office of Emergency Services asked for the letters from specific departments and agencies.

"I made some requests and the staff made some requests," Conroy said. "Everyone I asked to send a letter did so."

"This is not a popularity contest," Peskin said.

One organization that has not been pleased with the Office of Emergency Services' conduct is the Bay Area Rapid Transit.

The agency conducted a tabletop exercise in February 2006 of chemical agent releases in BART/MUNI station, but the Office of Emergency Services did not invite BART or MUNI representatives to coordinate such activities, budget analyst Newman said.

"That exercise was a notional and internalized exercise," Conroy said. "BART and MUNI did not have to be there."

Gary Gee, Chief of Police for the BART Police Department, disagreed with Conroy.

"I believe that any drills related to terrorism should include BART staff," Gee said.

BART Chief of Police, Gary Gee

Under San Francisco Police Chief Heather Fong, BART participated in joint emergency preparedness training with MUNI, which it shares four downtown stations with. BART also had terrorism drills in San Francisco and Oakland.

"When the Loma Prieta earthquake happened, BART continued running," Gee said. "On September 11, BART made sure workers in downtown San Francisco got to their homes safely throughout the Bay Area. BART needs to be part of disaster planning."

Conroy said BART is upset because an Urban Area Security Initiative grant could not pay for construction that BART had requested.

"Our agency did put forward a significant package for them for the UASI under critical discussion," Conroy said.

Lynette Sweet, vice president of the BART's Board of Directors, said the organization is far more concerned about their communication with the city's Office of Emergency Services.

BART officials had made constant efforts since last October to have a single meeting with the Office of Emergency Services to discuss their Urban Area Security Initiative's grant request, Sweet said. They received zero response from OES till this February.

BART officials were finally able to meet with the Office of Emergency Services on February 15 after the Mayor's Office intervened one week before the grant's deadline, Sweet said.

"I understand that Conroy is a busy person," Sweet said, "but BART is one of the top ten threatened targets in the case of a terrorist attack here. We should have a stronger relationship with the city's emergency response team."

Lynette Sweet, vice president of BART Board of Directors

Lt. John Quinlan, director of the Area Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security from San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, said he makes a concerted effort in regards to involving BART in San Mateo's emergency planning. The organization always invites BART representatives to its commanders group meetings every other month.

"BART is a valuable asset but it is also a major target of terrorism," Quinlan said. "Our cities must do what they can to protect it."

Experienced emergency rescuer Dick Morten expressed concern that various city departments of the city are still not prepared for disaster. Morten volunteered for the Red Cross Disaster Action team and served on flood emergency relief efforts in Sacramento, Yuba City, and a fire relief effort in Natomas. He also received Neighborhood Emergency Response Team training.

Morten took a first response self-training course at City College of San Francisco and part of that training involved a ride-along on a fire engine. Morten said he was shocked at the answer he received when he asked a local fire captain where the emergency supplies are.

"The supplies are at Safeway," Morten recalled the fire captain saying.

Dick Morten

Morten also cited one local hospital whose main supplies are located in Contra Costa County.

"In the case of a real disaster, both of these agencies are cut away from their supplies," Morten said. "How are they going to function?"

Supervisor Mirkarimi expressed concern that Conroy is still being paid full-time by the city even though she is actively pursuing an outside education.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi

Conroy said she is pursing a Master's degree at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. The 18-month program requires on-site attendance twelve weeks throughout the 18-month period, according to the audit.

"What you get from the Naval Post Graduate School is a quality of instruction and expertise that San Francisco has direct access to from the program," Conroy said.

Mirkarimi asked Conroy if other directors of the similar Offices of Emergency Services have participated in the Naval Postgraduate School.

"They take different blend of kinds of officials and try to mix up people of various backgrounds," Conroy said. "I'm there to represent San Francisco and a local perspective on issues of Homeland Security."

Mirkarimi also addressed issues of various departments' feelings of disaster preparedness as reflected through the Disaster Council.

Since 2001, the Disaster Council has not forwarded any ordinances, resolutions, rules or regulations to the Board of Supervisors for adoption, budget analyst Newman said. The Disaster Council has only approved one plan, the City's base emergency operation plan, even though 17 plans have been developed in the past two years.

"The Disaster Council seems like a congregation," Mirkarimi said. "A church mouse is heard more than we would be. We are composed and obedient no one talks out of line. It is simply a thumbs up and thumbs down and there is no analysis."

Conroy criticized the televising of the meeting of the Disaster Council meetings as one of the possible reasons why discussion isn't happening

"What free debate do we lose when we have public meetings and open meetings that are accessible?" Daly asked.

Supervisor Chris Daly

"I think some people might be more comfortable to speak in closed sessions," Conroy said.

Peskin disagreed with Conroy.

"The only way that you can get a city ultimately ready and prepared for a disaster is for the discussion to precipitate from the departments to the public," Peskin said. "The role of OES is a coordinated role. Exclusiveness and secrecy does not encourage coordination."

Supervisor Elsbernd shifted the discussion back to addressing the audit itself, specifically recommendations that the agency partially agreed on, completely disagreed on, or had no comment.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd

Office of Emergency Services had partially agreed upon a recommendation for the Disaster Council to review each city department's emergency plan, annex, mutual aid agreement or report and determine which of these plans should go to the Board of Supervisors for a public hearing.

"The disagreement was that the previous plans do not have to go to the Disaster Council," Conroy said. "The Disaster Council should be talking about what is going to the Board of Supervisors."

"We believe the Disaster Council is the political oversight body for emergency services so all disaster plans should be brought to the disaster council to decide," Newman said.

Conroy said the challenge would be to make sure the departments submit their plans in a timely manner. Elsbernd suggested that the Board of Supervisors should get involved. The Mayor's executive order requires all of the department's revised emergency plans completed by March 2007. The Budget and Finance Committee could hold departments' budgets on reserve until they complied to develop the plans.

The Office of Emergency Services partially agreed on a recommendation for the Disaster Council to be convened in order to review existing composition, purpose, role and responsibilities of the Disaster Council and then recommend changes to the City's administration code.

Elsbernd said Peskin's proposed committee will serve as the middle ground to counsel the Disaster Council. Conroy agreed to the amended recommendation.

The agency partially agreed that the Grants Divisions of the Office of Emergency Service should investigate grants operations and implement policies for claiming advanced reimbursement.

Grants from the Office of Emergency Services are provided on a reimbursement basis, budget analyst Peter Rumble said. The delays of claiming reimbursements to these grants have cost the city over $190,000 in lost earned interest, over $1,068 daily.

Budget Analyst Peter Rumble

"Homeland Security is not encouraging of this process," Conroy said. "You have to make sure that you are spending the money from the federal government at a certain amount of time or we owe interest."

The Office of Emergency Services said it would add more staff for the claims to be filled as addressed in the Mayor's Executive Order. Elsbernd suggested the Controller's Office should be involved with the program since the grants involve general fund dollars.

The agency partially greed on a recommendation for the Disaster Council to appoint an agency to manage coordination that addresses long term planning. The Office of Emergency Services has plans for the first seven days of disaster, budget analyst Bree Mawhorter said. However, the agency hasn't developed a specific recovery plan for 30 days onward.

"This sounds like something that the proposed committee can bring up," Elsbernd said.

The Office of Emergency Services partially agreed on reorganizing its entire grants division by eliminating two manager positions to fund three lower-level grants associate positions.

"We agree on this 98 percent," Conroy said. "We are waiting for the grants but there will definitely be restructuring."

The agency's first disagreement regarded requesting the Board of Supervisors approve the official name change of the Office of Emergency Services to the Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security.

"The name change preceded me," Conroy said. "It is important for outside agencies to know our connections with Homeland Security."

The Office of Emergency Services disagreed with the idea of reconfiguring 1011 Turk St. to accommodate both the Emergency Operations Center and the Office of Emergency Services.

The Office of Emergency Services said they had worked with the Department of Public Works to develop a plan for modernizing the Emergency Operations Center. However, the budget analyst's discussions with the Department of Pubic Works revealed no such walkthroughs or analysis had occurred.

"The building is deficient in size for a full and functioning emergency center," Conroy said.

The agency disagreed on the budget analyst's recommendations to eliminate a cafeteria and weight room in the building and have it reconfigured for Office of Emergency Services' staff.

"We need the lunchroom space because we need a quiet space," Conroy said. "The SEIU uses the exercise room so we would have a heck of a time dealing with them if we take out the weight room."

The agency also disagreed on a recommendation to assess and help City departments improve seismic safety.

"We're happy to assist any way possible but we don't have seismic engineers," Conroy said. "We've helped departments set up seismic retrofitting before but we just don't want to be held accountable for looking at seismic vulnerability."

"We're not talking about engineers," budget analyst Rose said. "We just need someone to coordinate the efforts."

As a supervisor whose district had been hit during the Loma Prieta earthquake, Alioto-Pier said she is concerned that Conroy does not know specific areas of the city that are vulnerable to earthquakes, such as a recreation center in Alioto-Pier's district.

"I'm curious if you believe that your role as a director of OES is to go further beyond drills and grants," Alioto-Pier asked Conroy.

Supervisor Alioto-Pier

Conroy had no response to Alioto-Pier's question concerning the said recreation center.

The Office of Emergency services disagreed on a recommendation regarding Conroy's extra education. The recommendation asks the Department of Human Resources to establish specific policies and guidelines regarding the amount of time that city employees spend attending conferences, classes, or other training and professional development activities.

The agency defers to the Department of Human Resources, Conroy said.

The management audit suggests that the Mayor should also eliminate the position of Executive Director of the Office of Emergency Services upon completion of the current director's tenure, or if grant funding runs out. Conroy had no comment about the specific recommendation.

Daly said Conroy is not the right person to serve as director of the Office of Emergency Services.

"She has served capably in different functions," Daly said, "but given what we saw happen in New Orleans, we should have someone who has significantly more experience and significantly more qualifications. I'm not calling for anyone to be fired or resign. I just don't think the fit is right."

The audit suggests that the executive director of the Emergency Communications Department should take on the roles of the Office of Emergency Services director.

Jullian Potter, Director of Public Policy, said that the position description has been issued for the Emergency Communications Department director and the Controller's Office is going to be part of that search.

Potter said she had no comment in regards to the recommendation itself.

"We are waiting for what the UASI grants will look like next year and who will be filling the ECD position within the next two to three months," Potter said.

Jullian Potter (right)

The mayor's office stands behind the Office of Emergency Services, Potter said. On May 10, Mayor Gavin Newsom issued executive directive 06-01, which identifies 19 action items to further the city's emergency planning efforts based on the audit.

"We feel good about this audit and we will make sure that the department implements the recommendations," Potter said.




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