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San Diego to Investigate Alleged Cheating on DHS Exam

SAN DIEGO-- The city is investigating its employees after allegations that some of them cheated on a disaster response test required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The test, on emergency procedures and communications in the face of a natural disaster or terrorist act, was administered to almost all of the city s 10,000 employees in late summer and early fall, said Fred Sainz, chief spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders.

Afterward, some employees told television station KFMB/Channel 8 that their supervisors had given them a study guide with answers that corresponded to questions on the online test. They said they used the study guide as a cheat sheet while typing their answers.

Jill Olen, the city s deputy chief operations officer for public safety, is heading the investigation to find out who and how many people were involved in the test tampering. Sainz said Olen is expected to conclude her investigation in early January.

Olen is in charge of the testing program and did not know of the alleged irregularities until news coverage brought them to her attention, Sainz said. He said Olen would not speak publicly about the cheating allegations while she is conducting the investigation.

The Department of Homeland Security instituted the emergency training and testing after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the nation s Gulf Coast in August 2005. Its primary goal is to foster seamless communication and cooperation among emergency personnel from various jurisdictions in a disaster.

When the training works, emergency personnel are better equipped to save lives and protect property, Homeland Security spokeswoman Ashley Small said.

The city received $16 million from the department this year. The test is one of 35 requirements a local government must meet to comply with the department s disaster training goal. But confirmation that cheating occurred in San Diego would not affect the awarding of future grants, Small said.

It s unfortunate if this occurred, but judging from the emergency response to the (La Jolla) landslide and the wildfires, the first responders knew what they were doing and did it well, Sainz said. We believe that training is more important than test-taking.

Sainz said that if cheating occurred, Sanders has said some employees will have to retake the test. A call to Sanders for comment was not returned yesterday.

The three-part test, called the National Incident Management System exam, must be administered to local governments that receive the Homeland Security grants.

Part of the city s investigation is whether it was giving the test to more employees than needed.

Holly Crawford, spokeswoman for the county Office of Emergency Services, said the directive from the Department of Homeland Security was to administer the test to emergency response personnel by Sept. 30. She said the federal agency s goal is for test-takers to score at least 70 percent on the exam.

The county gave the test to 4,335 of its 17,000 employees, including sheriff s deputies, emergency medical personnel, public-works employees and those who handle hazardous-materials spills and incidents.

The city of Los Angeles administers the test to fire, police, emergency medical personnel in the city, the Port of Los Angeles and Los Angeles International Airport, said a spokesman in the office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

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