The King County Auditor’s Office found many agencies were not fully prepared to keep operations going in an emergency, according to a report released on Jan. 13.
Across county agencies, Continuity Of Operations Plans (COOP Plans) were inconsistent in “quality” and “completeness,” making it hard to keep things running smoothly during emergencies, the report stated.
“King County’s geography puts it at risk for several types of major disasters such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions,” said King County Auditor Kymber Waltmunson. “These emergencies would prompt massive changes to county operations to ensure that we are able to fulfill our obligations and respond to the crisis.”
The 2022 Emergency Preparedness audit reviewed continuity plans for all county departments and independent agencies and reviewed some challenges they previously identified in a 2016 audit. The latest audit found that several important issues had not been addressed by the county in the intervening five years.
The key takeaways from the audit include:
– Continuity of Operations Plans across county agencies were of inconsistent quality and completeness, which may present barriers to delivering services to the community in the event of emergencies.
– Although some agencies have strong planning practices, out-of-date continuity plans and incomplete training efforts could leave many agencies unprepared to continue services during an emergency.
– Not all agencies address how to communicate with staff prior to and during emergencies in their COOP Plans, increasing the risk that staff will not be aware of key information or responsibilities during an emergency.
– Agencies need to address the needs of personnel with disabilities in their COOP Plans.
“Many of the issues found in this audit are driven by a lack of assigned responsibilities for coordinating and implementing continuity plan practices, as we originally found in 2016,” the King County Auditor’s Office said in a written statement.
The King County Auditor’s Office recommended changes to processes at the Office of Emergency Management and updates to King County Code that clarify continuity plan requirements and a system for regular review of agency plans.
The audit also pointed out the King County Executive structure, in which the Office of Emergency Management does not report directly to the executive as they do in other county executive structures in comparable counties.
“Despite the shortcomings found in the report, the Auditor’s Office also reported that many agencies had done a great deal of work to update emergency plans throughout the course of the pandemic,” The auditor’s office wrote in a statement. “Many agencies excelled in specific areas of continuity plans, and Public Health has continued to innovate its engagement with communities to address health inequities amid a pandemic that has brought heavy workloads, staffing limitations and other challenges.”