LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles needs better strategies to protect its critical information technology systems in the event of major disasters, City Controller Ron Galperin said.

The controller released a report Wednesday that recommended a comprehensive approach to ensure that vital city IT functions such as emergency dispatching continue during and after a disaster.

He said that the city needs to view IT systems as critical infrastructure, because it is “more than just software or computers” and suggested using bond financing instead of relying on year-by-year budget requests that often fall short of critical funding needs.

Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin
Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has been warning residents for the past several years that the city is overdue for an earthquake. Los Angeles was hit by the devastating Northridge earthquake in 1994 as well as experiencing mudslides in the affluent canyon areas.

“When it comes to planning for a major disaster in Los Angeles, history tells us it’s a matter of when, not if,” Galperin said. “With the safety of 4 million people at stake, we need to protect critical IT operations if we don’t want all of our other emergency planning to be compromised. This report shows we still have work to do.”

Galperin called for the city to create a steering committee to develop a citywide approach to IT business continuity and disaster recovery. The group would bring together the silos of individual departments’ planning.

Nine IT systems, including the LAPD’s dispatch and network communications systems, and the city’s financial management and payroll systems, were identified as mission critical due to their impact on public safety and services for Los Angeles residents. The report assessed IT disaster recovery plans for nonproprietary City departments and whether Los Angeles’ IT systems are positioned to continue to function after a disaster.

“L.A. currently has a fragmented approach for the recovery of critical IT systems in the event of a major earthquake, fire, terrorist attack or other disaster,” Galperin said.

The city has a robust Emergency Management Department, and individual city departments have their own emergency plans, what’s critically missing is a plan to maintain the key IT operations that underpin everything the city needs to do when disaster strikes, the report said.

“We must invest as quickly as possible to ensure that IT systems -- which impact City key functions including emergency communications, crime monitoring, and financial management -- are functioning to their fullest,” added Controller Galperin. “In the event of a serious emergency, it’s critical that our residents, our neighborhoods and our City are all prepared.”

Officials in the Information Technology Agency (ITA), Emergency Management Department (EMD), the Police Department (LAPD) agreed with findings that City departments should coordinate on IT disaster recovery and have begun implementing several of the recommendations.

"Effective emergency response depends on communication, and the consequences of communications infrastructure failure during a disaster can be the difference between life and death for those affected,” said Aram Sahakian, general manager of the Emergency Management Department.

“Investing in our City’s IT infrastructure and building alternate communications methods to back up our primary systems are critical," Sahakian added.

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