Oregon is at risk of a major Cascadia earthquake and tsunami that will threaten infrastructure, cost potentially billions of dollars, and result in numerous deaths. The state must do more to prepare for such a disaster, including completing and implementing critical plans, fulfilling minimum standards for an effective emergency management program, and adequately staffing the agency charged with coordinating emergency management efforts.
The emergency management system encompasses local governments and almost all of state government. The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is charged with coordinating Oregon’s emergency management efforts, including mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.
The purpose of this audit was to determine the status of state agency and local emergency management efforts to prepare for a catastrophic event, such as a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami.
- Oregon does not meet key emergency management program standards. These national baseline standards are a tool to strengthen preparedness and response, demonstrate accountability, and identify resource needs.
- Planning efforts across all levels of Oregon’s emergency management system are lacking. Critical continuity plans that ensure functional government services in the wake of a disaster are either missing or incomplete. Additionally, insufficient staff resources put the state at risk of losing potentially millions of dollars in federal grant funding for future disasters.
- Current statewide staffing is inadequate to reduce Oregon’s vulnerability to disasters. OEM in particular is understaffed, despite repeated budget requests to the Legislature, which inhibits the agency’s capacity to coordinate emergency management efforts in the state.
- More accountability, such as public reporting and tracking, is needed to ensure progress on long-term resilience goals and projects and to enhance public awareness.
To reach our findings, we conducted a survey of state agencies and local emergency management programs. We also interviewed staff at OEM, other executive branch agencies, and the legislative and judicial branches of state government. We researched programs in other states and assessed emergency management program standards.
This audit includes 11 recommendations, five to OEM and six to the Governor’s Office. These recommendations include such actions as completing, implementing, and exercising emergency and continuity plans; meeting minimum emergency management program standards; reporting on efforts to improve state resilience; defining roles and responsibilities and assessing and filling resource gaps.
OEM agreed with all the recommendations we made to them. The Governor’s Office agreed with all but one of our recommendations. That recommendation, they believe they have already implemented. Both OEM and the Governor’s Office’s responses can be found at the end of the report.