Report 2001-111.1 Summary - September 2001

Blackout Preparedness:

The Office of Emergency Services and the California National Guard Each Have Weaknesses in Their Blackout Preparations


The Governor's Office of Emergency Services' (OES) responsibility is to help the State mitigate, plan, and prepare for, respond to, and recover from the effects of emergencies. With regard to blackouts, the OES must ensure that it can function should it lose power. The OES has an emergency generator to power its headquarters, which includes its State Operations Center and it told us that it regularly tests and maintains the generator so that it will run when necessary. In addition, the OES has worked with the emergency response community to share information about the energy crisis and assist them in planning for blackouts. For example, the OES has held meetings and workshops, developed a notification process to warn appropriate parties when blackouts are coming, and developed a guide for local governments to use in planning for power outages.

However, the OES may have other issues that weaken its preparedness for blackouts. In March 2001 the OES distributed an Energy Shortage Response Matrix (response matrix) to its staff. The response matrix provides background and insight into potential public safety impacts, state actions to date, and the OES' policy relating to energy response. The OES asserts that it has taken steps to address some of the activities found in that document, but we are uncertain if or how it has resolved a few key concerns it raised. For example, the OES' response matrix indicates that it needs to refine its Business Continuity Plan (continuity plan). Although the OES asserts that its staff reviewed this plan in June 2001, it did not provide any evidence of changes it made or changes that may be pending. The OES also does not have a method in place to periodically evaluate its process for notifying the public, public safety agencies, and the media about anticipated blackouts nor has it designated staff or trained them to assist the local governments in using its planning guide. Consequently, the OES cannot ensure the effectiveness of its notification process or that local governments are receiving the planning assistance they seek.

When disasters or emergencies occur in the State, such as floods, earthquakes, or blackouts, the California National Guard (CNG) does not automatically mobilize to assist. Rather, the CNG must wait for the OES to direct it to where it is needed and how to assist in the disaster or emergency. Similar to the OES, the CNG's primary responsibility is to insulate itself from the effects of a blackout so it can function should OES mobilize it. In June 2001 the CNG issued its Power Outage Plan (outage plan). The plan appears to cover most issues critical to the CNG such as methods of communication, temporary electrical supplies, and weapons security. However, because the CNG does not ensure that it is ready to implement all of the outage plan, this raises doubts about the CNG's preparedness. For example, the CNG does not ensure that staff check and charge their cell phone batteries or periodically test and maintain their tactical generators. Most importantly, the CNG's outage plan is silent on the steps to be taken to ensure that its back-up generator, which supplies power to parts of its headquarters building will remain operable. Thus, the CNG has limited assurance that its back-up generator will be readily available to provide the necessary power to operate its Joint Operations Center so that the CNG can respond fully to any OES request.