Report 2001-111.2 Summary - February 2002
California National Guard:
To Better Respond to State Emergencies and Disasters, It Can Improve Its Aviation Maintenance and Its Processes of Preparing for and Assessing State Missions
The California National Guard (Guard) can improve its aviation maintenance and its process to prepare for and assess state missions:
- The Army Guard's ability to perform state missions may be compromised by delays in receiving helicopter parts and a shortage of qualified aircraft mechanics.
- The Army Guard does not ensure that personnel readiness reports exclude ineligible troops; however, because the Office of Emergency Services typically does not request full troop strength, the Army Guard's personnel readiness has no bearing on its ability to assist the State.
- The Guard needs to make certain that personnel in its Joint Operations Center who coordinate the Guard's state mission response receive requisite training.
- The Guard does not annually review and update its various emergency plans nor ensure that it implements recommendations from past mission assessments.
RESULTS IN BRIEF
Comprised of the Army National Guard (Army Guard) and the Air National Guard (Air Guard), the California National Guard (Guard) has a primary duty to mobilize for combat and peacekeeping missions as directed by the president of the United States. When not active in federal service, the Guard responds to requests from the Governor's Office of Emergency Services (OES) to aid local governments across the State in fighting wildfires, controlling floods, and rescuing people, and to help maintain civil order during earthquakes, riots, and other disruptions of normal life. The Army Guard has come to the aid of California communities by responding to 137 state emergencies in the past three years. In three recent flood seasons, the Army Guard worked almost 30,000 man-days evacuating people from flooded areas, patrolling levees, and providing other necessary services. Last year, the Army Guard fought eight major fires by dropping about 2.6 million gallons of water, the largest total drop in a single year. Supporting civil authorities in terrorism prevention since last September, the Army Guard is now stationed at major airports and bridges.
Despite its response record, the Army Guard has a deficiency that could limit its ability to respond to an OES request for emergency help. Most of the Army Guard's state missions require helicopter support, and the three Army Guard units that most often respond to the OES have a combined fleet of 29 UH-60 and CH-47 helicopters. Unfortunately, the units' ability to respond to state disasters and emergencies may be compromised by a lack of timely maintenance caused by delays in receiving parts and a shortage of qualified aircraft mechanics.
The Air Guard also responds to state missions, frequently using the 129th Medical Squadron. The Air Guard reports high federal readiness, but because the 129th Medical Squadron is sometimes federally deployed, it is not always available to the State. Also, because the Army Guard does not ensure that units exclude ineligible troops from reports of personnel readiness, some of its units overstate their troop strength. Further, the Guard's Joint Operations Center (operations center) needs to develop a process to ensure that all its staff members receive requisite training in military response to civil authorities. Finally, the Guard needs to make sure it annually reviews and updates its plans for various emergencies and implements recommendations from reports on previous missions.
In December 2001 the Army Guard reported that 17 of its 29helicopters were inoperable, waiting for maintenance or parts for more than 15 days. When the OES asks the Army Guard for state emergency assistance, grounded helicopters are not available to do the job. The Guard says low percentages of operational aircraft are caused by a variety of factors, such as delays in receiving parts and a shortage of staff to perform maintenance. Many helicopters are grounded while waiting for shock absorbers, engines, and other parts. In December 2001 the three Army Guard units reported having to wait more than four months for about 20 percent of the total parts on order, with some delays exceeding a year. Further, the three units report a major shortage of qualified aircraft mechanics, with as much as 50 percent of two units' maintenance staff not formally trained to work on UH-60 helicopters. Causes of this shortage include a lack of space in federal maintenance training programs and the use of full-time aircraft mechanics as members of helicopter crews in fire-fighting missions.
Of the 37 state missions the Air Guard has responded to in the past three years, its 129th Medical Squadron performed roughly 50 percent. This unit often responds to OES requests for search and rescue missions because the squadron's HH-60 helicopters have advanced navigation and communication technology. In November 2000 the Air Guard reported that the majority of its units, including the 129th Medical Squadron, met their federal readiness goals. However, the 129th Medical Squadron also works closely with the U.S. Air Force and while on federal deployments, is not available to conduct critical search and rescue operations. To mitigate any impact the 129th Medical Squadron's deployment may have on the State, the Guard has a process to notify the OES of deployments, allowing the OES time to arrange for other search and rescue assistance.
The Guard's data on readiness ratings for federal action are largely classified and thus unavailable for this audit report. However, the Army Guard lacks an effective process to ensure that units include only eligible troops in their quarterly Unit Status Reports (USRs), which indicate personnel readiness. We found that the three Army Guard units we reviewed erroneously included at least 21 total soldiers in their October 2001 USRs. The three units reported as available for duty, soldiers who were not deployable because they were inactive, absent without leave (AWOL), discharged, or pending discharge. Extending the error rate of 3.8 percent to all its reporting units, we found that the Army Guard may have incorrectly included more than 420 of its roughly 11,000 soldiers in its October 2001 USRs. Such reporting misrepresents the Army Guard's troop strength, giving a false picture of how ready it is for federal mobilization in wartime. However, the Army Guard's personnel readiness has minimal bearing on its ability to assist the State, because the OES typically does not request full troop strength. Also, the Guard's headquarters has no process to use data in its personnel office to validate the accuracy of USR personnel data for units, and at least one unit in the 40th Infantry Division (40th ID) did not get clear instructions on how to report ineligible soldiers in the USR.
The Guard typically coordinates its response to OES requests from the operations center in its Sacramento headquarters. Although it provides staff with opportunities for training on its operating procedures and the Response Information Management System and offers courses through state and national institutes, the operations center does not track who attends any of these courses. Without such a tracking system, the operations center cannot ensure that all its personnel receive the training they need to work most effectively in an emergency. Further, although some staff participate in premission activities, such as monitoring television news, the operations center has not included these activities in its Standard Operating Procedures manual (SOP manual). Consequently, some operations center employees may overlook critical information that could help the Guard anticipate mission requirements.
The Guard also lacks a process for consistent reviews and updates of its plans for various types of emergencies, such as wildfires, floods, and earthquakes. Although the National Guard Bureau requires an annual review, the Guard reviewed and updated only 3 of its 13 plans last year and has not reviewed the other 10 plans in up to 10 years. Without an emergency plan review process, the Guard cannot ensure that its disaster response plans reflect current conditions and resources. Finally, the operations center has no process to ensure that it implements recommendations from its After Action Reports (AARs), which the operations center prepares to evaluate missions, identify problems, and make suggestions to improve performance. We reviewed AARs relating to various types of large-scale state emergencies that occurred between 1992 and 2001. Though the operations center did address a weakness in its asset-tracking process, the steps it took to correct this weakness were not timely. Lacking a process to guarantee it implements appropriate AAR recommendations promptly, the Guard cannot ensure that it learns from its experience.
To help improve its percentage of operational aircraft, the Army Guard should do the following:
- Improve its data tracking and collection to determine why helicopters are not operational and then act to correct the problems.
- Reassess the feasibility of distance learning opportunities for its maintenance personnel.
- Determine how frequently it uses its full-time flight facility personnel to respond to fire-fighting missions and set a standard that will not negatively affect the Army Guard's ability to meet helicopter maintenance demands.
- Instruct the 40th ID and the personnel office to work together during the USR process to ensure that units in the 40th ID report accurate personnel data.
- Train appropriate staff in how to complete the USR.
- Strengthen its USR validation procedures to ensure that units adhere to U.S. Army regulations when they report USR data to the U.S. Army.
- Develop a system to continually identify requisite training for its operations center staff by March 31, 2002.
- Ensure that operations center staff are trained in providing military support to civil authorities to improve their response to state missions.
- Establish and maintain a system to track the training activities that operations center staff attend by March 31, 2002.
- Include premission activities in the operations center's SOP manual by June 30, 2002.
- Implement a system to ensure an annual review and update of state emergency plans, and review all state emergency plans by June 30, 2002.
- Establish a process to ensure action on AAR recommendations.
The Guard concurs with our findings and recommendations. It has already begun implementing many of the recommendations.