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City Panel Calls for More Staff for Disaster Preparedness Department

September 26, 2006|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Conceding that Los Angeles has taken inadequate steps to prepare for a natural disaster or terrorist attack, a city panel Monday recommended a nearly 50% boost in staffing to plan for catastrophes.

The City Council's Public Safety Committee endorsed a plan to increase the staff of the city's Emergency Preparedness Department from 17 to 25 people, including six new emergency coordinators to plan for and develop training for disaster responses.

"Right now our Emergency Preparedness Department is one of the most understaffed in the nation," Deputy Mayor Maurice Suh told the council panel.

The staffing boost is the first phase of a larger plan that would double the size of the agency, change its name to the Emergency Management Department and assign several people to work with community groups and neighborhood councils on coordinating local disaster responses.

Budget considerations are among those leading the city to phase in changes in the department. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa budgeted $4.6 million this year to update the city's emergency preparedness plan and department.

Councilman Jack Weiss, the committee's chair, said the poor response of Gulf Coast authorities to Hurricane Katrina requires Los Angeles to reexamine and improve its disaster planning.

"This department needs significant changes," Weiss said, noting the action taken Monday goes "part of the way."

The council panel also asked that the city's administrative officer study the feasibility of having the Los Angeles Fire Department create its own paramedic-training center.

Currently, there are more than 700 paramedics in the department, but the staff is about 10% short of where it should be because the city must wait for firefighters to complete courses at the Paramedic Training Institute in affiliation with El Camino College or the Daniel Freeman Paramedic Education Program at UCLA, according to a city report.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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