Secretary Richardson Releases Emergency Management Audit of Oregon’s Preparedness for a Catastrophic Disaster

By Oregon Secretary of State Press Office 

Salem, OR – Today, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson released an audit that calls on state officials to do more to prepare Oregon for a catastrophic disaster.

Auditors found that Oregon is vulnerable to a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami that is expected to have catastrophic consequences throughout the region in addition to recurring disasters of wildfires and flooding. The audit found that state and local governments do not meet key standards for being prepared to respond to such events.

Oregon needs to complete and implement critical plans, fulfill minimum standards for an effective emergency management program, and adequately staff the agency charged with coordinating emergency management efforts. The findings are outlined in the report entitled: “The State Must Do More to Prepare Oregon for a Catastrophic Disaster.”

“We know Oregon is facing a massive threat from a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami,” said Secretary of State Dennis Richardson. “The only thing we don’t know is when. It is critical that we act now to better prepare our state to survive not only this particular threat, but all catastrophic disasters facing Oregon. The state’s emergency management system, coordinated through the Office of Emergency Managements (OEM), must be prepared to respond to such events.”

The audit found a number of deficiencies that weaken Oregon’s preparedness for such an event, including the following:

  • 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 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. This inhibits the agency’s capacity to coordinate emergency management efforts in the state.
  • More accountability is needed to ensure progress on preparedness goals and projects, and to enhance public awareness.

Auditors conducted a survey of state agencies and local emergency management programs to determine the status of efforts to prepare for a catastrophic event. Auditors also interviewed staff at OEM and other agencies, researched programs in other states, and assessed emergency management program standards.

The audit includes 11 recommendations to OEM and 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.

Read the full audit on the Secretary of State website.

Auditors’ Note: The audit issued today by the Secretary of State is unrelated to and separate from the ongoing, multi-year audit being conducted by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General regarding the use of federal grant monies for OEM administration salaries and expenses.