Supervisor: OESHS is refocused agency

On the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy, a San Francisco supervisor said San Francisco’s embattled Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security is back on track now that the department has “competent leadership.”

The office came under attack in May for being unprepared for a disaster, with The City’s Budget Analyst’s Office releasing an audit saying OESHS Director Annemarie Conroy lacked experience in managing disasters, emergency plans remained incomplete and millions in Homeland Security dollars were left unspent.

The audit was followed days later by a grand jury report saying The City was not prepared to handle a mass-casualty disaster, and recommended OESHS work with area hospitals to develop a plan.

Soon after the release of the two reports, Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed Laura Phillips as the executive director of The City’s Emergency Communications Department, which oversees OESHS.

Phillips comes to San Francisco with more than 25 years of emergency services experience, and at one time oversaw emergency planning for the city of Sunnyvale.

On Monday, the Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee conducted a hearing on the reports, after postponing the hearing in May, when Conroy failed to show up. Conroy was also absent from Monday's hearing.

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who sits on the committee, used Conroy’s absence to drive home the point that Conroy was no longer in charge of The City’s emergency preparedness, and repeatedly asked Phillips if she was now Conroy’s boss. “The buck stops with me,” Phillips said.

Peskin said Phillips’ leadership is a “breath of fresh air.”

“The reality is that we finally have competent leadership and it was a long time in coming,” Peskin said after the meeting. “There was a lack of experience and maturity at the top of that organization and now it’s under qualified adult supervision,” he added.

Phillips said her department has implemented or is in the process of implementing 54 of the city audit’s 72 recommendations.

As for the unspent Homeland Security dollars, totaling about $40 million, Phillips said, “Our goal is to expend 100 percent of the funds. Nobody wants to return it.” The City has until the end of the year to spend the federal money.

Phillips highlighted the fact that communication has already improved with city departments, saying OESHS has a “new attitude.”

She promised to report to the Board of Supervisors more frequently as well as seek to restore the public’s faith in the department.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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