New School

San Francisco's New Dispatch Trainees with their instructor Patrick  (far left).

San Francisco’s New Dispatch Trainees with their instructor Patrick (far left).

In the past week, we honored three dispatchers with a combined 61 years of experience.  We also honored 4 veteran dispatch supervisors with the Toni Hardley Award- named after a legendary woman who served as a mentor to many of San Francisco’s 9-1-1 professionals.  Years of training and experience helped each of them but where does it all start?

Today we introduce the new school: 10 dispatch trainees in the early stages of their year long journey to be San Francisco Public Safety Dispatchers.  The diverse class includes a native San Franciscan who finds challenge in referring to her neighborhood as police districts (D3, D4, ect.) rather than her beloved Mission.  The class even includes a candidate that has previous dispatch experience.

The trainees are in week seven of their 12 week POST (Peace Officers and Standards Training) Academy and their lives have been filled with lectures, case studies, and tests.  They’ve also had the opportunity to sit-along with veteran dispatchers as they answered emergency calls from the public or dispatched first responders to an incident.  The candidates learn valuable lessons from the calm manner in which their experienced mentors extract information from the public.  Their eyes try to keep up as 9-1-1 professionals move from monitor to monitor (as many as five) and quickly multi-task to relay information to police officers, fire fighters, or paramedics.

The new school is learning the well-established tools of the trade and is taking on new challenges as 9-1-1 evolves.  Later in the year, San Francisco will transition to a new computer aided dispatch or CAD system.  In addition to a new appearance and commands, the new CAD can dispatch specialized Fire Department units more efficiently.  This new generation of dispatchers will likely tackle the challenge of implementing Next Generation 9-1-1 which includes allowing the 911 system to accept and handle advanced information from the public, including video, photos, and text messages.

Being a public safety dispatcher is a demanding job that is critical to San Francisco’s public safety.  After completion of the POST Academy, the dispatch trainees will receive intense on-the-job training under the supervision of training dispatcher.  This includes answering emergency calls from the public and the responsibility of dispatching first responders on the radio.

Does the new school have what it takes to join the ranks of our 9-1-1 professionals?  Time will tell- but if they have the skills, judgment, and determination to keep the public and first responders safe then there’s a headset waiting for them.

San Francisco celebrates National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week to showcase the important lifesaving performed by our 9-1-1 professionals.  Dispatchers act as the communications hub for emergency services, and must quickly assess situations and send appropriate help.  San Francisco’s 9-1-1 Dispatchers manage more than 1.2 million emergency and non-emergency calls annually.   For more information on 9-1-1 in San Francisco visit www.sfdem.org/911.

Young 9-1-1 Heroes

People call 9-1-1 during emergencies.  For an adult the situation is often stressful and chaotic.  Imagine how scary the situation is when you are a child and call 9-1-1 for your parent.

“I’m only nine-and-a-half…”

For nearly 30 years, Lisa Farfan has been the voice of comfort and calm on the other end of 9-1-1.  She’s noticed that people become disoriented during an emergency:  They don’t know where they are or forget where they live; They give you a lot of information but have trouble answering questions.  It’s Lisa’s job to coax information from people during the worst of times.  When asked about Catrina Corjito she smiles and says, “That young girl is special, she is a real hero.”

Catrina called 9-1-1 because her mom was choking, coughing up blood, and was having a hard time breathing and talking.  Catrina was clearly frightened but she maintained her poise and that is what stood out to Lisa.

“Catrina said ‘I’m only nine-and-a-half’ but she did such a great job — better than most adults,” said Lisa.  Catrina clearly articulated her location and what was going on.  She was straightforward when asked questions and listened to instructions.  Paramedics arrived within minutes of the 9-1-1 call, and from there Catrina and Lisa parted ways.

Months later Lisa met Catrina for the first time when they both received the 9-1-1 Heroes Medal of Honor at San Francisco City Hall. It was a proud moment for all in attendance… especially Catrina’s mother.

“I really want my mom to get help…”

Kimberley Tuyay might have the magic touch when it comes to answering calls from young people.  For the second year in a row she’s being recognized for helping a young person through a difficult situation.

“Kids are the best 9-1-1 callers because they are direct and honest,” according to Kim.  This makes a huge difference because good information helps a dispatcher send the right help much faster.

Dante Parker called 9-1-1 from a cell phone when his mom was lying on the floor with severe abdominal pains.  “She’s really swelling up… I really want my mom to get help,” said a frightened Dante.  No matter how scared he was Dante continued to answer Kim’s questions and follow her instructions.  Kim stayed on the phone with Dante until help arrived.

Kim, Dante, and his mother were reunited at San Francisco City Hall months after the 9-1-1 call.  Together, Kim and Dante, received the 9-1-1 Local Heroes Medal of Honor.

The 9-1-1 Local Heroes Medal of Honor is awarded to young people who call 9-1-1 to help save a life or property, or to report a crime. The award is also presented to the 9-1-1 dispatcher who processed the call, and dispatched the appropriate emergency response help.  The 9-1-1 Local Heroes Medal of Honor was created in 1999 and is now an international awards program.

San Francisco celebrates National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week to showcase the important lifesaving performed by our 9-1-1 professionals.  Dispatchers act as the communications hub for emergency services, and must quickly assess situations and send appropriate help.  San Francisco’s 9-1-1 Dispatchers manage more than 1.2 million emergency and non-emergency calls annually.   For more information on 9-1-1 in San Francisco visit www.sfdem.org/911.

Matthew Roybal: Dispatcher of the Year 2013

Matthew Roybal, San Francisco Dispatcher of the Year

Matthew Roybal, San Francisco Dispatcher of the Year

The people and the technology… These are two of the reasons that Matthew likes coming to work every day.  On July 6, 2013 Public Safety Dispatcher Matthew Roybal was standing watch on the radio working with fire fighters and paramedics to respond to emergencies around the city.  On the radio the pace is quick and professional.   It was 11:28 am and things were about to pick up.

A Boeing 747 had crashed on the runway- slides were deployed and passengers were coming out.   At this point, Matthew and his fellow dispatchers didn’t have a full picture of what was going on.  But he knew he had to get first responder units moving fast.

As the dispatcher on the Command radio channel it was Matthew’s responsibility to coordinate and account for all the units that were coming from San Francisco to the airport.  As more information came in about the crash, more units from the city were sent to SFO. Matthew was admittedly was nervous and tense but his training and experience helped prepare him.  He also had great support system as fellow dispatchers helped out so he could focus on the radio.  Everything worked like it was supposed to and like with any emergency it was a team effort.

After hours on the radio keeping track of his fellow first responders, Matthew was finally relieved after the last unit came back to San Francisco.

Public Safety Dispatcher Matthew Roybal was calm and professional during the tragic Asiana plane crash.  His actions were not only a credit to himself but also his fellow dispatchers.  For these reasons, Matthew was selected by his peers as San Francisco’s Dispatcher of the Year.

 

San Francisco celebrates National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week to showcase the important lifesaving performed by our 9-1-1 professionals.  Dispatchers act as the communications hub for emergency services, and must quickly assess situations and send appropriate help.  San Francisco’s 9-1-1 Dispatchers manage more than 1.2 million emergency and non-emergency calls annually.   For more information on 9-1-1 in San Francisco visit www.sfdem.org/911.

Getting the Word Out

Outdoor Public Warning System

We call it the Outdoor Public Warning System. What do you call it?

Today is Day 1 of San Francisco’s 3-day tsunami exercise and we’re practicing the City’s alert and warning procedures.  Say what?!? It’s how we get the word out in an emergency- in this case a tsunami.  For City leaders and top emergency officials, it’s reviewing the decisions needed to send an alert and even call for an evacuation of coastal neighborhoods.  For the emergency operations center staff, it’s executing pre-planned measures to ready themselves and the public for an impending tsunami.  While we won’t actually send alerts to the media, sound the sirens, push text messages, or dominate your Twitter feed- we will practice doing so in a simulated environment.

In a real emergency, we use a number of tools to help get the word out to you. Here’s a rundown of some of tools we have in San Francisco:

The Outdoor Public Warning System 

It has many names- the Burrito Call, the Tuesday Noon Siren, or Charlie Brown’s teacher but the San Francisco’s Outdoor Public Warning System is there to alert residents and visitors of the City about possible danger. Specific emergency announcements can be broadcast over any one (or more) of the 109 sirens which are located on poles and on top of buildings throughout all neighborhoods in San Francisco, Treasure Island, and Yerba Buena.

The sirens are tested at noon every Tuesday. During the weekly test, the siren emits a single 15 second alert tone, similar to an emergency vehicle siren. In the event of a disaster, the 15 second alert tone will sound repeatedly for 5 minutes. For more information visit http://sfdem.org/index.aspx?page=55

AlertSF

AlertSF is a text-based notification system for San Francisco’s residents and visitors. AlertSF will send alerts regarding emergencies disrupting vehicular/pedestrian traffic, watches and warnings for tsunamis, flooding, and Citywide post-disaster information to your registered wireless devices and email accounts. Registrants can also sign up to receive English-language automated information feeds and/or alerts targeted to specific areas of the City. To sign up for AlertSF please visit: www.alertsf.org

Twitter: @sf_emergency

@SF_Emergency is the Department of Emergency Management’s official Twitter account for emergency public information. In general we provide information on 1) what to do (e.g., avoid the area); and 2) what geographic area is impacted; and 3) whether the incident is related law enforcement, fire, transit, or traffic. Follow us at @SF_Emergency

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)

San Francisco can access the Wireless Emergency Alert system to send wireless phones and other enabled mobile devices geographically-targeted, text-like messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety in their area. Basically, if your wireless phone pings a cell tower in San Francisco, we can send you an alert message.  For more information visit: http://www.fcc.gov/guides/wireless-emergency-alerts-wea

SF72

SF72 moves beyond the concept of building a disaster kit — instead, it will provide accessible tools and simple steps to help San Franciscans connect with one another and support their communities, now and in the event of an emergency.

In an Emergency is the portion of the website that will provide up–to–date information on current emergencies, including a description of the emergency and instructions for any actions that the public should take (e.g., boil water, shelter in place, avoid the area around Civic Center, etc.). This section of the website will become the homepage of SF72 during a major emergency. To learn more visit www.SF72.org

The sirens, AlertSF, social media, WEA, and SF72 are just some of the resources we can use to help get the word out.  In the event of tsunami or other major disaster, police, fire fighters, volunteers, and community networks could also help get information to neighborhoods throughout San Francisco.  Finally, we’ll also push out information to the media so they can report what’s going on to you.

Press Release: San Francisco Hosts Emergency Exercises and Events to Prepare for Tsunamis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 24, 2014

Contact:  Francis Zamora, 415-558-3830

 

*** PRESS RELEASE ***

 San Francisco Hosts Emergency Exercises and Events to Prepare for Tsunamis

March 23 -29 is National Tsunami Preparedness Week

 San Francisco, CA –  At the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, we like to say we plan and prepare for everyday and not-so-every day emergencies.  A tsunami that could flood our coastal neighborhoods along the ocean and the bay?  That certainly qualifies as a not-so-everyday emergency.

“San Francisco plans and prepares for all emergencies,” said Anne Kronenberg, Executive Director, San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.  “Our tsunami risk includes neighborhoods along both the ocean and the bay. It’s important for both City government and our community to prepare.”

March 23 to 29 is National Tsunami Preparedness Week. San Francisco is hosting emergency exercises and community events to help City government and San Franciscans become better prepared.  Beginning on Wednesday, March 26 and continuing until Friday, March 28, the Department of Emergency Management is leading an emergency operations center exercise to practice San Francisco’s alert and warning procedures, response capabilities, and recovery operations before, during, and after a tsunami.  Dozens of city departments, community organizations, state, and federal agencies are participating.

On Saturday, March 29, San Franciscans, first responders, and volunteers will participate in the SF Tsunami Walk.  Like during an actual tsunami evacuation, walkers will move away from the coast and head to higher ground.  The walk begins at 10:30 a.m. at the Marina Green, Marina Boulevard and Scott Street, and ends at the Marina Branch Library on Chestnut Street and Webster Street.  A preparedness fair including a hands-only CPR demonstration and training will greet walkers at the library. The event is sponsored by Department of Emergency Management, San Francisco Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT), American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter, and the Neighborhood Empowerment Network.

Since 1850, over fifty tsunamis have been recorded or observed in the San Francisco Bay. The most recent event was during the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, which registered three to four foot waves in parts of the bay and resulted in approximately $100 million in damage statewide.  According to the U.S. Geological Survey, San Francisco’s tsunami risk includes neighborhoods along both the ocean and the bay.  San Francisco’s tsunami inundation zone map can be found at www.sfdem.org/tsunamizone.

###

Three Years Later: Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami

Today marks the third anniversary of the Tohoku, Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The earthquake was a magnitude 9.0 and was the most powerful known earthquake ever to have hit Japan. The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 133 feet and traveled up to six miles inland. 

Immediately after the earthquake, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center both issued tsunami warnings for Hawaii, the U.S. West Coast, Alaska and the island territories in the Pacific. A tsunami warning is the highest level of alert so DEM got to work, gathering in the early morning hours at our Emergency Operations Center and began issuing public alerts and warnings about the tsunami expected to hit the California coast line. Thankfully, the tsunami caused little damage. We were lucky.

While the tsunami generated by the Tohoku Earthquake which hit Hawaii and the West Coast caused relatively minor damage, it reminds us of the need to be aware of how tsunami alerts and warnings are issued. There are various alerting tools available, including the City’s Outdoor Public Warning siren system (Tuesday Noon Sirens); Wireless Emergency Alerts; and AlertSF, our text-based message system that delivers emergency information to mobile phones and other text-enabled devices, as well as email accounts. DEM also issues public alerts and warnings on Facebook and Twitter (@sf_emergency). In an emergency, the SF72 Crisis Map will also serve as San Francisco’s real-time information hub.  You’ll find official updates, reports from our partners, and crisis map to navigate city resources.

SF Tsunami Walk

The last week in March 23-29 is National Tsunami Preparedness Week and San Francisco is hosting our annual tsunami preparedness walk. The SF Tsunami Walk begins on Saturday March 29 at 10:30 AM at the Marina Green (Marina & Scott).  For more details visit www.sfdem.org/tsunamiwalk.

In addition to the Tsunami Walk, the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management is conducting a three-day (March 26-28) tsunami exercise to practice with City’s alert and warning procedures, response capabilities, and recovery operations in a tsunami.

For information on how can you become better prepared visit www.sf72.org.

Shake Up Call

Originally posted on SF72:

Last night’s magnitude 6.9 earthquake off of the coast of Eureka, California was reminder that we live in earthquake country.  Thankfully, there were no reports of injuries or damage and the ocean tremor did not generate a tsunami.

Judy was in Tokyo, riding the train to the airport, when the 8.9 Tōhoku earthquake struck. Her immediate reaction was simple: to reach out to her digital networks, and let them know what was happening. Tomorrow, March 11 is the 3rd Anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

Earthquakes can happen at any time with little or no warning.  That’s why it’s important to take simple steps now so we’re ready for any emergency.

Get Connected: When disaster strikes, we come together to help each other. Getting prepared is about knowing your neighbors, saying hi to the regulars at the local market, and staying in touch with family and friends—both digitally…

View original 134 more words

Telling Our Story in DC

L-R: Oakland Director of Emergency Services Renee Domingo, Santa Clara County Fire Chief Ken Kehmna, and Bay Area UASI General Manager Craig Dziedzic at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Washington, DC.

L-R: Oakland Director of Emergency Services Renee Domingo, Santa Clara County Fire Chief Ken Kehmna, and Bay Area UASI General Manager Craig Dziedzic at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Washington, DC.

When the next big disaster hits the Bay Area, will our first responders have the right equipment, training, information, and public warning systems in place?  To make sure that we do, the Bay Area relies in part on an annual federal grant from U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) called the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), to help prepare our region for a major disaster.  While the grant is focused on terrorism, the planning, equipment, training, and exercises funded by the grant can be applied to most major disasters, from earthquakes to tsunamis to wildland fires to zombie apocalypse, as well as every day emergency response.

We make sure to stay in touch with our friends in Washington to let them know what we’ve accomplished with our UASI grant, and what our ongoing needs are.  Last week, six emergency managers from around the Bay Area did just that, traveling to the nation’s capital to tell our story to DHS to Congress.  Our group included Bay Area UASI General Manager Craig Dziedzic, DEM Policy and Legislation Assistant Amiee Alden, and partners from Oakland, Alameda County, Santa Clara County, and the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC).

Keeping in Touch

L-R:  NCRIC Director Mike Sena, Bay Area UASI General Manager Craig Dziedzic, Alameda County Undersheriff Rich Lucia, Congressman Eric Swalwell, Santa Clara County Fire Chief Ken Kehmna, Oakland Director of Emergency Services Renee Domingo, and San Francisco DEM Policy and Legislation Assistant Amiee Alden, in Congressman Swalwell’s Capitol Hill Office.

L-R: NCRIC Director Mike Sena, Bay Area UASI General Manager Craig Dziedzic, Alameda County Undersheriff Rich Lucia, Congressman Eric Swalwell, Santa Clara County Fire Chief Ken Kehmna, Oakland Director of Emergency Services Renee Domingo, and San Francisco DEM Policy and Legislation Assistant Amiee Alden, in Congressman Swalwell’s Capitol Hill Office.

Our Bay Area emergency managers met with officials from DHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to discuss how our UASI grant has helped us get ready for the next disaster.  We met with freshman Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin), and with staff for several members of the Bay Area congressional delegation, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Representatives Barbara Lee, Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren, and Mike Honda, as well as staff for both the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees.

How Has the UASI Grant Helped the Bay Area?

  • Interoperable Communications – We are over 50% complete with a project to upgrade the radios used by police, fire, and other first responders, enabling them to communicate with each other throughout the Bay Area.
  • Training and Exercises – UASI funds the annual Urban Shield exercise, which trains 4,000 first responders from the Bay Area and across the country in scenarios like urban search and rescue.  First Responders from Boston trained with Urban Shield, and credited this exercise with teaching them critical skills that made a difference during the April 2013 marathon bombing.
  • AlertSFPublic Information and Warning – UASI funds AlertSF, which sends emails and texts to San Franciscans with critical information during emergencies – sign up at www.AlertSF.org.
  • Cyber security – President Obama has made cyber security a top homeland security priority.  More funding would help the NCRIC to catch more criminals who use cyber-crime to disrupt businesses, steal personal information, and cost our local economy.

Something’s Missing Here…

Bay Area UASI AreaThe Bay Area UASI includes 12 counties around and near the Bay Area.  But when DHS decides how much money to allocate to the Bay Area each year, they only count 7 of those counties, leaving out Sonoma, Napa, Solano, Santa Cruz, and Monterey.  DHS has determined that these counties are too small to count, under the grant guidelines.  But we argue that these counties include critical resources, like Travis Airforce Base in Solano County, which may become a major hub for delivering resources to the Bay Area if a large disaster knocks out our local airports, as well as the Defense Language Institute in Monterey County, the premier Department of Defense facility that trains our military translators who serve overseas.

We were grateful to Congressman Swalwell for raising this issue the very next day with the new Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, at a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee.

 

Hey SF! Get your Tsunami-Walk On!

NERT volunteers walk away from Ocean Beach during the inaugural SF Tsunami Walk

NERT volunteers walk away from Ocean Beach during the last year’s inaugural SF Tsunami Walk

When: Saturday March 29th 10:30am to 1:00pm
Begins: Marina Green at Marina & Scott
Ends: Marina Branch Library at Chestnut & Webster
Brought to you by: San Francisco Department of Emergency ManagementSan Francisco Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT)American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter, and the Neighborhood Empowerment Network.

Preparedness is all about people. So bring your people to the Marina Green for the SF Tsunami Walk! Like an actual tsunami evacuation we’ll walk away from the bay and head to higher ground.   The SF Tsunami Walk is on Saturday March 29 at 10:30 AM and begins at the Marina Green at Marina Boulevard and Scott Street.  We’ll walk inland along Cervantes Boulevard until we reach Fillmore St. Our walk will end at the Marina Branch Library where we can learn more about how to take care of ourselves, our families, and our neighborhoods in any emergency- even tsunamis.

March 23 to 29 is National Tsunami Preparedness Week.  In addition to the Tsunami Walk, the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management is conducting a three-day tsunami exercise to practice with City’s alert and warning procedures, response capabilities, and recovery operations in an tsunami.

For information on how you can prepare for any emergency visit www.sf72.org.

#startuplife: The Evolution of Emergency Management in the Philippines

While SFDEM was visiting the TaRSIER 117 Operations Center an emergency call came in about a shooting in Taglibaran City.  A call taker took the information from the caller and a radio dispatcher notified the Philippine National Police.

Startup life… It’s a lifestyle and a popular hashtag on Twitter or Instagram.  It’s the hustle and the grind.  The marathon hack-a-thons and the late night drinks where ideas are born.  It’s developing the next product or service that’ll change all of our lives.  In San Francisco, it drives our economy but there have been some unintended consequences as well.

Over here it’s different.  In a two room building in the Bohol province of the Philippines they aren’t developing a new social network, e-commerce site, or dating service.  The men and women of this startup don’t develop code or design products.  Instead the scrappy staff that make up this startup are dispatchers, medics, and emergency managers and they are making TaRSIER 117 work with nothing more than sheer will.  TaRSIER is short for Telephone and Radio System Integrated Emergency Response.  1-1-7 is the phone number Boholinos are encouraged to call when they have an emergency.

TaRSIER 117 is housed in a two room building in Tagbilaran City, Bohol.

TaRSIER 117 is housed in a two room building in Tagbilaran City, Bohol.

Darwin, Operations Manager, watches as a TaRSIER Call Taker and Dispatcher respond to shooting.

Darwin, Operations Manager, watches as a TaRSIER Call Taker and Dispatcher respond to shooting.

Alfonso is a proud Boholino and TaRSIER was his idea.  Many years ago his father, Alfonso Sr., had a stroke so they jumped in a car and rushed him to the closest clinic.  It took an hour and half…the damage was done.  Bohol had ambulances, they had firefighters, and they had police officers but they weren’t coordinated.  On top of that each had their own phone number and often that number was different from barangay to barangay (neighborhood to neighborhood).  What was needed was central place in Bohol where aid and assistance could be coordinated effectively.  Years later, Alfonso became the Provincial Administrator and in March 2011 TaRSIER 117 was launched with a staff of 8.

If TaRSIER was Alphonso’s idea, then Darwin and Mark are the key developers.  Darwin was trained as a nurse, but had difficulties finding a nursing job in Bohol, so he worked for a customer call center. When he started at TaRSIER, he drew upon his background to develop the protocols and script his dispatchers use when people call.  Mark is also a trained nurse and a former Philippine Red Cross volunteer.  Mark uses his medical and Red Cross experience to train TaRSIER’s medical response and rescue teams. Together they are taking what they know and developing the lifesaving protocols, procedures and training for TaRSIER.  If something isn’t working they learn from the experience and make adjustments.  From what DEM could observe they are doing a phenomenal job with scarce resources and without formal training.

Darwin, Mark, and SFDEM's Francis Zamora ride in the back of a TaRSIER response vehicle.

Darwin, Mark, and SFDEM’s Francis Zamora ride in the back of a TaRSIER response vehicle.

Cecile Soto, SF DEM 9-1-1 Operations Manager, with TaRSIER 117 Dispatchers.

Cecile Soto, SF DEM 9-1-1 Operations Manager, with TaRSIER 117 Dispatchers.

Rod Dudgeon re-lives his paramedic days and talks shop witth TaRSIER medics.

Rob Dudgeon re-lives his paramedic days and talks shop witth TaRSIER medics.

TaRSIER has grown to 47 people who staff and operate Bohol’s emergency operations center, emergency dispatch, and provide ambulance and rescue services.  While they have grown with the support of Bohol’s governor, like any startup, they have had their challenges.  Educating the public to call 1-1-7 has been an enormous task.  TaRSIER averages 250 emergency calls per month for population of 1.2 million.  By comparison, San Francisco’s 9-1-1 emergency dispatch center averages more than 3,000 calls per day for a similar population.  It’s not because San Francisco has more accidents, fires, or crime. It’s because many people in Bohol in still prefer to seek out help on their own or call the police or fire department directly.  If they do call, sometimes it’s for non-emergencies.  TaRSIER staff cited examples of people calling to ask what the traffic is like.  In other instances, the caller gets upset and asks the dispatcher why they are asking so many questions.  DEM assured our counterparts that we also get similar calls.

Retention is another challenge for TaRSIER.  Most of the team went to school to be nurses and have had a hard time finding a job in that field.  As the staff gains experience and training, they often get offers for higher paying jobs as nurses or in more established emergency management departments in the Philippines.  According to Alfonso, in the past year, 14 staff members have left TaRSIER for more lucrative or high profile opportunities.

NDRRMC Emergency Operations Center

NDRRMC Emergency Operations Center

NDRMMC tracks the movement of a typhoon earlier this year.

NDRMMC tracks the movement of a typhoon earlier this year.

Not all emergency management departments in the Philippines are startups.  The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) is the Philippine government’s version of our Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  During our visit to NDRRMC headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo, we found highly professional, knowledgeable, and experienced emergency managers.  In addition to earthquakes, the Philippines must contend with 15 to 20 typhoons each season.  While NDRRMC is nowhere near a startup, their focus has shifted from managing the response to reducing risk through preparedness.

The Philippines has invested time and resources in engaging the public through both digital and traditional social networks.  Facebook is the primary method of digital social networking since it is what most Filipinos use.  NDRRMC has also formed a public-private partnership with the country’s mobile providers and developed a smartphone app that provides useful emergency information that is set to launch in the summer of 2014.

The staff at the NDRRMC knows that government can’t be the only answer before, during, and after an emergency.  They are investing time in local leadership at the barangay level.  People everywhere, whether it is in the Philippines or San Francisco, are likely to listen to information if it is from friend, family member, or other trusted source.  This is why the NDRRMC is enlisting church leaders, school teachers, and barangay captains to help Filipinos get more prepared.

Manila DRMMC official demonstrates call talking capabilities.

Manila DRMMC official demonstrates call talking capabilities.

Manila's combined Emergency Operations and Dispatch Center under construction.

Manila’s combined Emergency Operations and Dispatch Center under construction.

Manila’s emergency management agency is in a state somewhere between TaRSIER and the NDRRMC.  The Manila DDRMC (MDDRMC) has taken steps towards preparing for the hazards that may face the city’s 1.6 million inhabitants.  MDDRMC is building a new combined emergency operations center and emergency dispatch center at Manila City Hall. The center will coordinate everyday emergency calls as well as respond during special event or disaster.  DEM was impressed by MDDRMC’s due diligence in designing their combined center.  Manila officials built a small demonstration facility and then required every hardware and software vendor to provide a proof of concept for their products before asking for bids.  As a result, they could test equipment and software before purchasing them.

While TaRSIER, NDRRMC, and City of Manila are different stages of evolution and capability they were all put to the test in some way in the fall of 2013.  DEM’s next post will focus on the response and recovery and lessons learned from the deadliest earthquake in the Philippines in 23 years and the strongest typhoon in recorded history.

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