Be Prepared: Getting Ready for New and Uncertain Dangers

Report #162, January 2002
Be Prepared: Getting Ready for New and Uncertain Dangers

Full Report

Executive Summary

Press Release

January 31, 2002

For Additional Information Contact:
James P. Mayer, Executive Director
(916) 445-2125

Little Hoover Commission: Be Prepared

While California has prepared for natural disasters, more needs to be done to prepare communities for the new and uncertain dangers of terrorism, the Little Hoover Commission concluded in a report released Thursday.

The Commission determined that the State had a solid infrastructure for dealing with emergencies, and reviewed many of the measures taken to fortify California after the September attacks.

The Commission’s report identifies measures that could be taken over the long term to assess dangers, wisely allocate resources and ensure communities are prepared for what is now possible.

“If we learn one lesson from these events, it should be that local communities and state agencies need to dedicate some of their best minds to continuously improving our collective ability to respond to these increasing and diverse dangers,” the Commission concluded.

The Commission’s public hearings focused on ways to bolster California’s abilities to respond to disasters. From its experience with earthquakes, floods and fires, the State has forged a cooperative system for sharing resources and coordinating responses.

Local officials, however, told the Commission that not all communities had the equipment or training necessary to deal with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. A series of ongoing attacks could undermine the willingness of local agencies to share resources. Large and simultaneous attacks would challenge the system for coordinating responses. And even a single disaster could overwhelm medical facilities that no longer have extra capacity.

While many improvements are underway, the Commission urged state policy-makers to institutionalize today’s sense of urgency into policies that would rigorously challenge local and state agencies to assess and improve their ability to respond to emergencies of all kinds.

The Commission made recommendations in four areas:

  1. Local Preparedness. Disasters are largely local and so each community must be prepared for the possibilities. While the State requires local emergency agencies to standardize parts of their operations, local communities are not required to meet a baseline level of readiness. Rigorous and routine assessments and drills would improve the preparedness of local agencies and identify where additional resources are required.
  2. State Support. The State needs to further fortify its emergency response infrastructure to ensure that it is collecting and communicating essential information. It needs better tools for setting priorities and for guiding additional investments. Health officials need to be better integrated into emergency preparations. And the State needs to ensure that security concerns can be met without sacrificing effective public oversight.
  3. Public Health. One of the weakest parts of the response network in California, as in the rest of the nation, is the public health system. While some improvements are underway, more fundamental reforms are required to ensure communities can detect and assess hazards and respond to biological and chemical weapons.
  4. Public Information. Far more than during discrete natural disasters, the people of California need more and better information regarding terrorist attacks. The information is essential to allow Californians to prepare and protect themselves.

“More than anything else, the Commission concluded that the state and local communities need to think differently about emergency preparedness because the range of possibilities is much greater than it was before,” said Chairman Michael Alpert.

“We may not be able to afford every improvement immediately,” Alpert said. “But with careful planning, we can make essential improvements over time to make sure that emergency response units can do their job and Californians can do their part to protect themselves and assist their communities.”

The Commission is an independent and bipartisan panel that reviews state policies and programs for efficiency and effectiveness. Its recommendations are submitted to the Governor and the Legislature for their consideration. Copies of the report can be obtained by contacting the Commission or visiting its Web site:

Fact Sheet

Study Description



In this report, the Commission calls on California to institutionalize a sense of urgency into policies that generate continuous improvements in how threats are assessed, how emergency response agencies are organized and managed, and how resources are defined and used in the name of public safety.

During its review, the Commission found California has not verified the ability of local agencies to respond adequately to multiple, large-scale disasters - particularly attacks engineered to cause massive casualties, destruction and chaos. The State has not identified what will be necessary - or developed a plan to ensure - that California is prepared for the types of emergencies it may face. The Commission also found the State has not adequately maintained its public health assets to meet the needs of a growing population. The State should improve the content and the means for distributing information to the public at the time of civil emergencies.

Based on these findings, the Commission recommends the State fortify local disaster preparations by requiring risk and vulnerability assessments, adopting standards for readiness and creating effective mechanisms for verifying that standards are met.The State should fortify its structure for governing emergencies, for further improving communications and for ensuring that security and preparedness policies are responsive to public needs and effectively implemented. The Commission also recommends for the State to measure the adequacy of emergency medical response capacity in all communities and ensure appropriate resources are dedicated to creating and maintaining adequate public health services. California should explore ways to use modern technology - coupled with information protocols - to completely and accurately inform the public about potential threats and the actions they should take.