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California

DWP defends security practices after leadership shake-up

DWP Headquarters

Security issues have been raised about facilities of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Above, the agency’s downtown headquarters.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Leaders of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power defended the utility’s security practices Tuesday following the release of a confidential report that identified vulnerabilities at three of the city’s power stations.

The defense also followed a leadership shake-up at the DWP. Patrick Findley, who oversaw security and emergency management, was let go last Thursday, according to city government sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of confidentiality rules on personnel matters.

Utility spokesman Joseph Ramallo said he could not comment on the matter. Ramallo said that security services were currently being overseen by Gary Wong, the assistant general manager of joint system services.

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Calls to Findley were not immediately returned. 

A report from Navigant Consulting concluded that the department had failed to follow up on recommendations made more than a decade ago to improve the security of its power facilities. Power officials “ignored most of the recommendations” made in 2001 by R.S. Hahn Co., the consultants wrote in their report first released in December.

One facility lacked alarms at its exterior doors to catch intruders, according to a previously redacted section of the report. At another, delivery vehicles were not inspected. And at a third, weeds and trees were so overgrown that trespassers could hide without being detected, the report said.

The Navigant consultants said that, beyond such specific problems, they were worried that the utility lacked processes to ensure that such security improvements were addressed.

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“It’s an order of priority for me. To me, it seems there is no more important item to contemplate at the utility today than the security of the assets,” said L.A. City Councilman Felipe Fuentes, who introduced a proposal last month that would overhaul the governance structure of the DWP.  

The department has left it up to managers at each facility to act on recommendations, which often results in “significant delays in fixing the security issue or no action at all,” the consultants wrote.

The security concerns laid out in the unredacted version of the report were first published by the L.A. Daily News. The Times also obtained an unredacted copy of the report. 

DWP officials defended their work before the City Council at a hearing Tuesday, arguing the Navigant report failed to include its recent efforts to enhance security. Officials who spoke at the hearing included DWP Chief Operating Officer David Wright.

Studies were performed by Magallanes Associates International from 2006 to 2008, and the Los Angeles Police Department’s anti-terrorism team evaluated the utiltiy’s sites in 2009, according to DWP officials. 

At the sites identified in the Navigant report, crews have since installed additional security gates, razor wire, surveillance cameras and key card access, DWP officials said. Officials have also implemented new procedures to inspect deliveries, they said.  

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The utility operates 1,000 surveillance cameras with plans to expand to 2,500, according to the DWP. Additionally, the failure rate of the cameras has dropped from 40% in 2014 to 6% now, officials said. 

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Concerns over security come as Fuentes pushes an initiative that would strengthen the power of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners and actually weaken the influence of City Hall politicians.

The ballot measure, which could be put to voters as soon as June, would replace the volunteer commission with a panel of paid experts. It would also remove the requirement that the appointment of the DWP’s general manager be approved by the City Council and mayor. 

“We have the opportunity to move forward and have a conversation as to whether we should reform this charter. If there is one reason to consider that, it is the security and reliability of this utility,” Fuentes said. 

Twitter: @LATimesEmily, @TheCityMaven

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