BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Hurricane season is approaching, and after Hurricane Ida hit seven months ago, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office is asking if Louisiana is prepared for another one.
In a nearly 50-page report, auditors made eight recommendations for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) in their hurricane response based on what they found after Ida swept through the state.
The first recommendation pointed out that the emergency plans submitted to GOHSEP from declared disaster parishes were missing key information.
“The fuel needs of first responders, who is going to staff your points of distribution, which is really important because that’s where all of your supplies are,” said Audit Manager Gina Brown.
The report said 68 percent of those parishes did not make arrangements for how to handle sex offenders in their area.
“How are you going to transport sexual offenders and where are they going to stay during a disaster because it has to be different because you can’t have them at a shelter, like a typical shelter,” Brown said.
The report’s next recommendation from the audit report said GOHSEP’s pre-awarded emergency contracts were not always sufficient to meet the demand for resources. This forced the state to spend nearly $10 million on generators that would be cheaper if purchased before the storm.
“These vendors might not want a pre-awarded contract because they know that they can be paid a higher price immediately after the storm when you’ve had a lot of damage and people are scrambling,” Brown said.
Brown acknowledges that contractors will wait until the state is desperate for supplies and mark up the price, but she believes there is still room for GOHSEP to improve by making more purchases ahead of time.
“It’s very hard to get these pre-awarded contracts for the amount of supplies you may need,” said Brown. “But there are also some things that they can do using past storms and using past data to know that your pre-awarded contracts aren’t sufficient right now for several items, items that you always know you’re going to need like generators and to really put a push to get those in place.”
Four of the eight recommendations were on how to improve the WebEOC, a website designated to help people in Louisiana get the supplies they need.
“Transparency and communication is so important immediately after a disaster,” Brown said. “And we found that parish leaders — like parish presidents, first responders, mayors — may not have access so they can’t see when one of their items are going to be delivered because there is no notification system.”
The audit also calls into question a communication system put in place following Hurricane Katrina. Louisiana invested in a communication system called the Louisiana Wireless Information Network (LWIN) to serve as a backup when phone lines or other forms of communication are down. However, the audit report says it was not efficient.
“Our backup communications failed,” said Brown. “And even 911 services went offline so now residents couldn’t call in emergencies. So that was a big recommendation that we made is the state needs to invest in a better backup system that won’t be so impacted by the loss of electricity.”
The last point the audit mentioned was the state’s new sheltering program. It applauded how the state moved quicker to house people compared to FEMA’s program by getting 11,980 residents housed in 4,166 units compared to FEMA’S program, which only provided 1,102 housing units by February 15, 2022.
But because the program was so quick to action, a process to prioritize applicants was not put into place. The report suggested better communication and management could have “reduced the public’s frustration over the speed of the program.”
Out of the eight recommendations GOHSEP agreed to address seven of them fully and partially agreed on one.
“It’s very hard to respond to an emergency and that’s one thing we identified is every storm is different, every location that it hits presents different problems and so having these measures in place could just make it a little bit more easy,” Brown said.
GOHSEP declined an interview for this story. Click here for a full list of recommendations.