The City of Los Angeles (LA) is the second largest city in the United States, with a population of nearly 3.9 million residents.  Although both the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) have provided various emergency-services capabilities for over 100 years, the city’s still relatively new emergency management office has just started to function as a modern 21st-century emergency preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery organization.

For more than a quarter of a century, LA used a civil defense model – under jurisdiction of the LAPD – from the Cold War era to manage various crises.  In 1980, an Emergency Operations Organization (EOO) was established informally by the LA mayor and the City Council.  The city’s chief administrative officer (CAO) managed the EOO’s coordination of LA’s local emergency preparedness, response, and recovery functions. For the next two decades the EOO (later renamed the Emergency Preparedness Department, or EPD) struggled through its mission by using shared staffing provided by several of the city’s other departments.  The broad organizational structure and lack of a dedicated emergency manager contributed to the problems EOO/EPD faced in its infancy; those problems were exacerbated by the fact that the department’s  staff reported through four separate command structures. The 1992 LA riots and 1994 Northridge earthquake provided painful but significant lessons learned, and exposed some major operational gaps as well as a number of  problems that would require changes in the city’s organizational structure if the EOO was to be able  to meet its mission in the future. A New Beginning, Offset by Additional Challenges Seeing the need for change, the city’s voters and political leaders adopted a new City Charter giving the mayor direct authority over, and responsibility for, the city’s For the first time, LA  had a  dedicated emergency manager as well as a centralized organization, and all of that organization’s  employees were working under one roof emergency-preparedness plans and operations. On 2 July 2000, the mayor and City Council formally established the new Emergency Preparedness Department. The EPD’s first general manager, Ellis M. Stanley Sr., was appointed in November 2000. For the first time, LA  had a  dedicated emergency manager as well as a centralized organization, and all of that organization’s  employees were working under one roof.

Stanley, a graduate of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C.,  served as emergency manager of Atlanta, Georgia, before coming to LA. He also had served as president of the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) and as chairman of the Emergency Management Accreditation Program. Before retiring on 17 September 2007, Stanley led his department through a dynamic political environment in a city possessing one of the most diverse ethnic populations in the world

From 2001 to 2006, the city again faced daunting challenges from international terrorism in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attack on the Pentagon and the destruction of the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center. Fortunately, the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003 led to, among other things, the allocation of hundreds of millions of dollars for state and local homeland-security projects and programs. Nonetheless, the entire city was still struggling – as all of the nation’s cities were, and still are – to meet the demands of its new homeland-security mission.  Looking Back – And to the Future Meanwhile, the city’s missions in disaster preparedness and all-hazards readiness; in pre- and post-disaster hazard mitigation; in the creation and regulation of  robust recovery programs; and in the training of thousands of city employees  to meet the requirements mandated by the new National Incident Management System (NIMS) were severely straining the EPD’s staff of just 16 people.   In 2006, a reorganization of the department was proposed under a revised city budget that provided funds for additional staffing that would bring the department up to 30 full-time positions.   On 20 September 2007, three days after Stanley announced his retirement, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the appointment of LAFD Captain James Featherstone as the department’s new general manager.  Featherstone, who previously ran the LAFD’s tactical training division, and served as an assistant general manager of the emergency management office from January through July 2006, started his new duties on 1 October. He brings a strong background in field operations to the agency. Nine new employees hired from outside emergency management agencies since July 2007 join him in bringing new perspectives and ideas into an organization that in the past had been staffed primarily from intra-city department transfers.  With 25 of 30 staffing positions filled to date, but with several new missions also assigned, the city’s newly reorganized  EMD looks to the future with certain organizational concerns not yet fully resolved, but also with considerably more experience gained from the previous “lessons learned” and the full backing of not only the city’s political establishment but also 3.9 million other concerned citizens in the greater Los Angeles area.

David S. Burns

David S. Burns, CEM, campus emergency manager for the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), has more than 24 years of public-safety experience as a 9-1-1 dispatcher, a paramedic, and an EMS and fleet operations manager. He is currently 1st vice-chair of the Universities & Colleges Committee for the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM). He has written numerous articles and reports in the fields of homeland defense and emergency management and holds a number of certifications in threat and vulnerability analysis and assessment, terrorism instruction, and WMD (weapons of mass destruction) training.

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