This commentary is the first in a PublicCEO series about disaster preparation in California cities and counties.

It’s a gamble that too many cities and counties are taking.

Too many local governments are not prepared to deal with potentially devastating disasters.

The recent earthquakes in California offers warning that cities and counties need to do everything within their power to be as prepared as possible for these types of disasters.

Budgets are strained at the local level, but it’s not an excuse to roll the dice on the safety and protection of constituents. Contracts need to be put into place with the private sector to activate immediate assistance following a disaster.

There are a number of private companies that specialize in instantaneous reaction to helping local government and communities get back on their feet as soon as possible. Examples of those cities and counties who do roll the dice are notorious and disheartening.

The New York Times recently reported on the fact that many Californian local authorities are unprepared for a serious quake, noting that emergency officials have had their preparedness negatively affected due to budget challenges.

The lack of preparation is especially terrifying in lightly populated areas that depend on larger cities or agencies in case of emergency.

“We know that there’s going to be an earthquake, and we know it’s going to be a major natural disaster,” said Lou Paulson, president of the California Professional Firefighters and a captain in the Contra Costa County fire protection district in the Times article. “And I don’t want to be one of the people who stands in front of the state of California and says, ‘We told you so.’”

The threats of earthquakes in California are valid and scary. If a contract with a private company can provide instant aid to cities and counties, why would these decision-makers not be prepared?

Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the Ermergency Management agency, told the Times that the continuing failure of Californians to fully prepare was frustrating, but that Sunday’s 7.2 magnitude quake that rocked Baja was “a teachable moment.”

“It’s tough trying to get people to think about something bad,” Huston said, according to the Times. “The only time we can get them to think about it is when the earth moves. Well, 20 million people felt that quake. So there’s 20 million people who now realize that earthquakes can affect them.”

Let’s hope enough local government decision-makers are paying attention.

James Spencer is the editor of He can be reached at