Chemical Weapons Stockpile:

Emergency Preparedness in Alabama Is Hampered by Management Weaknesses

NSIAD-96-150: Published: Jul 23, 1996. Publicly Released: Jul 23, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Army's Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) for Alabama and Calhoun County, Alabama, focusing on: (1) the status and funding of CSEPP in these areas; (2) the impact of federal, state, and local management on Alabama's program; and (3) Calhoun County's opposition to the chemical stockpile disposal facility that the Army plans to build at the Anniston Army Depot.

GAO found that: (1) eight years after CSEPP's inception, Alabama communities near Anniston are not fully prepared to respond to a chemical stockpile emergency because they lack critical items; (2) Alabama and six counties have not spent $30.5 million, 66.4 percent of the $46 million allocated to enhance emergency preparedness; (3) the unexpended funds are associated primarily with four projects for which federal, state, and local officials have not agreed on specific requirements: (a) a CSEPP 800-megahertz emergency communications system; (b) equipment and supplies to protect people in public buildings; (c) indoor alert and notification devices for public buildings and homes; and (d) personal protective equipment for emergency workers; (4) citing these four projects and eight other areas as major emergency preparedness deficiencies, Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) opposes a state environmental permit for the construction of the disposal facility until it receives a written commitment from the Army to support the county's emergency preparedness requirements or provide acceptable alternatives; (5) the lack of progress in Alabama's CSEPP is the result of management weaknesses at the federal level and inadequate action by state and local agencies; (6) management weaknesses at the federal level are fragmented and unclear roles and responsibilities, incomplete and imprecise planning guidance, extensive involvement in the implementation of certain local projects, lack of team work in the budget process, and ineffective financial controls; (7) these weaknesses have resulted in time-consuming negotiations and delays in implementing projects critical to emergency preparedness; (8) Alabama EMA spent more than 2 years trying to contract for a demographics survey, which will serve as the basis for determining the requirements for the tone alert radios and developing critical planning documents; (9) the survey has not started as of May 28, 1996; (10) Calhoun County EMA has been reluctant to initiate CSEPP projects until federal officials agree to the county's requirements; (11) the situation in Alabama may not be unique; since 1994, GAO has reported that CSEPP is not working the way it was intended; (12) GAO's work has shown that although some progress has been made, communities near the eight chemical weapons storage sites in the United States are not fully prepared to respond to a chemical emergency, financial management is weak, and costs are growing; (13) the problems experienced in Alabama's CSEPP are likely to continue until an effective approach is developed for reaching timely agreements among federal, state, and local officials on specific requirements for projects; and (14) developing this approach should rest with the Army.

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