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The Embedded Bureaucracy of Urban Shield

Report on Second Alameda County Ad Hoc Committee on UASI

(For background on the Ad Hoc Committee, see this report on its first meeting on September 19 and this web page of UASI and post-Urban Shield resources.)

While Alameda County funds most of the staffing for the Urban Shield exercise through the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office salaries, the Sheriff’s Office also receives an Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) annual federal grant for $5.5 million, of which $1.7 million supports Urban Shield. On October 4, the Ad Hoc Committee on UASI heard a presentation by Bay Area UASI staff that made clear the bureaucratic obstacles to implementing the Board of Supervisors’ decision to end Urban Shield “as currently constituted” after 2018.

BAUASI general manager Craig Dziedzic said that training and exercise is a FEMA requirement, and that “Bay Area UASI regional stakeholders” need and want “a robust, multi-disciplinary regional exercise to ensure readiness to respond to disaster with regional impact.” He then said that, “if Alameda County ceases to lead these initiatives” then “Bay Area UASI will fund another provider per direction from our Approval Authority.”

A list of BAUASI stakeholders presented by Dziedzic showed government agencies and the Red Cross. But when asked what community entities besides the Red Cross determine the priorities for training in the Bay Area, BAUASI staff conceded that the training program is designed by and for only local government ‘first responder’ agencies, with no input from community members.

Timing Issues

The timeline for changing things in the 2019 UASI exercise is narrow. It will require amending or rejecting the 2019 MOU between BAUASI and Alameda County, which is currently under review by San Francisco (which administers Bay Area UASI).

The Board of Supervisors can reject the MOU, or seek to amend it. In fact, the sheriff’s authority to sign the MOU comes from the Board of Supervisors, which clearly and formally decided on March 27 that that meeting would be “the last time funding for Urban Shield, as it is currently constituted, be voted on by the Board of Supervisors.”

But any amendment that is considered a change of scope – and BAUASI staff said that removing the SWAT competition would be such a change – would have to go back to the BAUASI board for approval. Failure to agree on an MOU would represent a major disruption for BAUASI, requiring many months to find a new provider.

BAUASI staff told the committee that the current annual MOU between Alameda County and BAUASI staff expires December 31, and that a new one needs to be in place by then.

However, committee members subsequently received a copy of the Alameda County-BAUASI MOU for 2018, and it states clearly that the performance period expires February 28, 2019, even though reimbursement requests must be submitted by January 31, 2019. Moreover, the current MOU – which replaced a previous one that expired February 28, 2018 - was not ratified by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors until March 27 of this year, and signed by Sheriff Ahern on April 11, 2018. In other words, there is clearly time for the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to make changes to the MOU and send it back to BAUASI for re-approval.

2018 MOU dates

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet Nov. 6, Nov. 20, Dec. 4, Dec. 18, Jan. 8, Jan. 15, and Jan. 29. The BAUASI approval authority (board) is only scheduled to meet November 8, and not again until January.

Institutional Stakes

Neither Alameda County nor BAUASI will be keen on severing the relationship with Alameda County for running the UASI training and exercise program. The program’s activities for 2019 are spelled out in an MOU between Alameda County and BAUASI for the county’s use of $5.1 million in UASI funds. These activities include Urban Shield and training courses, but they also include the AC Alert system that sends alerts to cell phones across the county (such as the “presidential alert” that went out to cell phones on October 3).

The schedule for substantially changing the 2020 exercise is much more flexible. Even though the initial application to BAUASI from Alameda County is due today (October 12), BAUASI staff said that significant changes can be made to projects between January and June 2019 (though they insisted that changes made later during that period are more difficult).

During the last part of the meeting, David Keenan of Safer DIY Spaces, which was formed in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire, spoke in public comment about community-based fire prevention and the need (and opportunity) for community involvement to bring buildings into compliance with fire and health standards without displacing tenants. “The communities that are actually affected are the first responders,” he said.

For more materials on UASI, Urban Shield, and Alameda County’s decisions, see this page.  

The next meeting of the UASI Ad Hoc Committee will be Friday, October 19 at 9:00 a.m. at the Fremont Public Library, 2400 Stevenson Blvd., Fremont.  

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