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Inadequate Security Leaves DWP Facilities Vulnerable, Report Says

Study finds guards are poorly screened, trained and managed. Staffers see agency's response to 9/11 as insufficient.

August 12, 2004|Patrick McGreevy and Noam Levey | Times Staff Writers

The reservoirs and electricity plants that supply Los Angeles are vulnerable to terrorist attack because the city Department of Water and Power is not adequately screening, training and managing those hired to guard the facilities, according to security workers interviewed for an internal report.

The employees told a researcher hired to assess workplace conditions that keys to sensitive facilities were carelessly handed out to contractors, and that guards were required to patrol remote sites alone with radios incapable of reaching distant security staff.

They also charged that the DWP's managers had not done enough to bolster security since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"All a terrorist has to do is hit our water and power, and L.A. would be gone," one employee says in the report.

The report, obtained by The Times, was the result of focus-group interviews with DWP security employees in which they said "possible sabotage" of agency facilities was a concern.

"They very emphatically stated that almost anyone can get a job as a security officer within LADWP and that these individuals have automatic access to all facilities and security procedures," the report says. "They stated that water facilities are an especially easy target for infiltration."

Henry Martinez, acting general manager of the DWP, said he was taking the findings seriously and was reviewing whether there were security lapses as bad as some employees said.

"We are not ignoring the comments from the security people -- they are on the front lines," Martinez said. "Even if it's just perception, we've got to treat it with seriousness and pursue the facts."

Mayor James K. Hahn said that if the claims about lax security were true, it was outrageous. But he said he had not yet seen the report.

"I'm going to ask some pretty tough questions of DWP management, and I better get some pretty darn good answers," he said.

Martinez said he received the report Tuesday. It was prepared by a private contractor gauging how employees felt about working conditions.

The consultants interviewed 400 DWP employees in 26 focus groups, including four groups made up of security employees at the agency.

In some offices of the DWP, employees complained about low morale, sexual and racial discrimination, and a lack of strong management.

In the information technology section, tension between managers and lower-level employees over supervision and job assignments was found to be particularly high, and immediate sensitivity training was recommended by the report's author, Sangeeta R. Gupta, a management consultant with more than 15 years of experience.

But the security issue sparked the most concern at City Hall.

"That's an alarming report," said Councilman Jack Weiss, a former federal prosecutor and one of the council's leading anti-terrorism experts.

He said security details in some city agencies, such as the DWP, did not have the same standards the LAPD required.

"Terrorism experts take certain potential attacks on L.A.'s utility facilities quite seriously," Weiss said. "If the DWP doesn't, maybe we should find a security force that will."

The DWP employs 200 security officers and contracts for 100 more to guard its scattered power plants and reservoirs, as well as 10,000 miles of transmission lines and 7,000 miles of water pipes.

In June 2002, Hahn announced a five-year, $132-million plan to protect the city's water supply from terrorism, saying it was essential to be vigilant, although there have been no specific threats against local water facilities. Much of the money is going to physical improvements, including fencing and surveillance cameras.

But the confidential report suggests that the agency needs to take even more basic steps.

The report recommends that the department improve background checks for security workers and "establish a rigorous interviewing process and minimum standards for hiring any security personnel."

The report also calls for more training for employees working in security, including weapons and self-defense training.

One unidentified employee quoted in the report said contract employees "are given access without good background checks. We are told, 'If they breathe, hire them.' "

Many officers leave after months on the job "and they know all our secrets," another worker said.

One employee said keys to the reservoirs were given to contract workers and "they are just being passed around." The report recommended reviewing and, if needed, revising policies regarding contract guards and security procedures.

Martinez called many of the comments troubling. "I am concerned about the impression about not having control of our keys," he said. He also said hiring and training standards appeared to need review.

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