Thinking about a decade ago….


As many of us reflect upon what happened 13 years ago today, we would like to join the conversation about 9/11 with this DEM Blog from our archives.

Originally posted on San Francisco DEM:

I’ve been doing my best to stay operationally focused lately – much going on in the world – and telling myself that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 wasn’t going to impact me all that much.

I was wrong.

It started earlier this week as the media started replaying the coverage from that awful day. The world changed. For all of us.

Being in California we were stuck in the position to watch and be able to do very little about it. Which of course ran counter to every instinct those of us in public safety have. It still causes knots in my stomach when I see the footage and think about all those inside; the desperation of the jumpers, the sheer force of will in the firefighters running up stairs, and chaos for those trying to come down.

Indeed, the world has changed.

For me it ultimately resulted in a…

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Preparedness is about connection, not catastrophe.

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Many of us were awakened early Sunday morning by the largest earthquake in the Bay Area since the Loma Prieta earthquake nearly 25 years ago. Thankfully, San Francisco suffered no damage. But we know that aftershocks in the region are common following a large earthquake of this magnitude. This is a good reminder that we need to do what can now, before the next earthquake, because that will make our City’s recovery all the more effective.

But while we are taking stock of our emergency preparedness, we want to underscore this: emergencies look more like cities coming together than falling apart. And at the heart of this is connection.

While Sunday morning’s earthquake is foremost on our minds, let’s use this as an opportunity to not only build upon our earthquake preparedness, but connect within our community networks about emergency preparedness in general. Have a conversation about preparedness with your family, neighbors, friends, and coworkers. Talk about what you would do if an earthquake causes damage in our city, and in our neighborhoods. Visit to learn how to be prepared for earthquakes (along with any type of emergency), and ask your neighbors to do the same.

Plan Basics

We also encourage everyone connect into emergency preparedness by taking the San Francisco Fire Department’s free Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) training, and register for the City’s e-mail and text-based notification system

We know disasters, whether it is an earthquake, tsunami, or something human made, can happen at any time with little or no warning. That is why it is important to take steps now so we are ready for any emergency. Let’s not wait until the next disaster to show how connected and prepared we are.

More Prepared

20 Years Ago: The Northridge Earthquake


Early this morning the Bay Area was shaken awake by the largest earthquake since the Loma Prieta earthquake nearly 25 years ago. It’s a good reminder to think about your state of earthquake preparedness, and build upon it. And remember, you are more prepared than you think…really!

Originally posted on San Francisco DEM:

1994 Northridge Earthquake

1994 Northridge Earthquake (FEMA NEWS PHOTO)

San Franciscans stand with our fellow Californians by remembering the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.  We remember the lives that were lost and those that were changed.  The magnitude 6.7 quake caused $25 billion in damage and was the costliest U.S. natural disaster at the time.  Northridge was a not so subtle reminder that we live in earthquake country (Universal City residents received a more subtle reminder this morning).  The 20th Anniversary of the Northridge Earthquake is also about saluting the resilient people that rebuilt their community and worked hard to return to normal life.

More Prepared

Whether you’re just starting out or a preparedness pro, gathering your emergency supplies and planning ahead is easy. A good rule of thumb is to have supplies for about 3 days, or 72 hours. You’ll be surprised at how much you already have. Take simple steps today on

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DEM’s Demo Days

Something is in the air when it comes to awesome technologically and/or socially innovative ideas that support emergency management. Just this week alone, DEM was involved in three very exciting “Demo” events:

  1. DEM was invited to the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day where we were thrilled to announce the launch of City72, an open-source emergency preparedness platform modeled after our own SF72  that is designed specifically for local governments. The City72 platform includes a toolkit that provides cities with the  technical guidance to create a customized City72 site for any city or region (for more about City 72, read on).
  2. While at the White House, we also announced our formalized partnership with AirBnB to help facilitate temporary housing, should the need arise, during an emergency (for more about the DEM-AirBnB partnership, read on).
  3. During the San Francisco Entrepreneurship in Residence Demo Day DEM was joined by the company Regroup to showcase a project linking the Shake Alert Earthquake Early Warning System to mobile phones (for more about the Shake Alert Earthquake Early Warning Regroup demo, read on).

And here’s what Mayor Lee has to say about these exciting demos:


Modeled after SF72, San Francisco’s emergency preparedness hub, City72 allows any area, large or small, to create an effective preparedness platform for their community no matter their technical capabilities. To provide technical guidance to cities adopting City72, we created the City72 Toolkit, which includes open source code that allows local governments and web developers universal and free access to the City72 design and blueprint.  It also allows universal redistribution of that design and blueprint, including any improvements made by other communities or developers.

For communities that do not have access or resources to hire a web developer, the City72 Toolkit offers a content editor that functions as a “ready to go” website. This tool provides simplified emergency preparedness information alongside templates designed to showcase hyper-local videos, images, and sentiments that are unique to any community creating its own City72 site.  All communities have to do is add their own text, images, and videos.

“When it comes to building products like this, it should be publicly available, it should be shared. We want to help other emergency managers, many of whom don’t have the resources like we did to push the development of a public messaging system. We want to make it easy.” –Rob Dudgeon, DEM Division of Emergency Services Deputy Director, about making City72 available to  the emergency management community collective.

SF DEM presenting at the White House Eisenhower Executive Office of the President


San Francisco Department of Emergency Management and AirBnB Memorandum of Understanding

Also presenting at the White House Demo Day was AirBnB where the social sharing company announced its partnership with DEM (and the City of Portland), formalized by a Memorandum of Understanding, to help meet temporary housing needs during an emergency.

AirBnB will also work with DEM to make sure the pre-identified hosts are prepared and trained to react in an emergency.

 “Opening doors to people who need a place to stay is in the DNA of the Airbnb community. When Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast, 1,400 Airbnb hosts in New York opened doors and cooked meals for those left stranded. We were inspired by these stories to build a disaster response initiative with our community.” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky

San Francisco and Portland are the first cities to enter this sort of agreement with Airbnb.

 Shake Alert Earthquake Early Warning System

DEM Operations Coordinator Anna Sop, joined by Regroup CEO Joe DiPasquale,  showcased a demonstration project linking the Shake Alert Earthquake Early Warning System to cell phones at the San Francisco Entrepreneurship in Residence Demo Day.

Anna Sop

During the demonstration, DEM and Regroup explored the connection between the ShakeAlert system to early earthquake notification to provide automatic mass notification and warning to our city’s diverse population. In an effort to ensure the messages are as accessible as possible, the system would  use pre-crafted messages in different languages (English, Chinese, Spanish, and Tagalog).





To Our Twitter Followers:

Originally posted on SF72:

Since we first started using social media in spring 2009, @SF_Emergency has become a major public information tool for DEM. In this journey of learning how to integrate a culturally unprecedented mode of communications (we liken it to when the internet was first used), we have learned A LOT about crafting messages for the public on this medium, of particular importance being how to master the art of…brevity. With that magical 140 character maximum, us govies have really worked that muscle. So, in the process of learning to craft succinct messages, we adopted a formula of sharing only the basics. This formula predominately includes the 1) what to do (e.g., avoid the area); and 2) what geographic area is impacted.

So, as we move forward on our social media journey, we are becoming aware that our formula (developed to honor brevity and unnecessary information that could cause more trouble than…

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From the Field: DEM Volunteering Medical Relief in Haiti

Occasionally, staff members at San Francisco DEM have an opportunity to travel abroad. They frequently write back with their observations. The following journals a recent trip by DEM Emergency Medical Services Agency staff members, Crystal Wright and John Brown, who went to Haiti to volunteer their personal time and professional expertise to the rural town of Leon. 


Crystal Wright, EMT-P, and John Brown MD, recently returned from a week of volunteer work in rural Leon, a town of some 8,000 people in the Grande Anse province of southwestern Haiti. The reason for their visit was to support a local dispensary staffed with a nurse, a pharmacist, a dentist and a tuberculosis program health aide. The medical operation, begun in 2000 by the Seattle King County Disaster Team (a member of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team program of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department) as a training mission for health care providers to learn how to provide quality care in an austere environment, now provides services to the clinic every four months with a multi-disciplinary team of nurses, physicians, paramedics, EMTs, laboratorians and pharmacists.

The Team

Crystal (pictured far left) with the King County Disaster Team.


Dr. Brown has participated in this effort annually since 2004 and finds enjoyment in seeing returning patients and families from treatment given in previous years. He’s noticed a slow but steady improvement in some infrastructure support since the significant earthquake in January 2010, and the improving overall health of the patients with chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. The teams conform to World Health Organization standards for disease treatment and medications, and work with the local health care system, including the Haitian Health Foundation, to deliver preventive medicine teaching and supplies, and refer high risk patients to the nearby city of Jeremie for treatment.

Dr. Brown

Dr. Brown treating a child.

During his free time on the mission, Dr. Brown enjoys visiting the children and staff at a local orphanage that he supports, and hiking the local trails to visit the farther flung villages in the community, and admire the lush flora and fauna of the countryside.


Dr. Brown doing an ultrasound on an expectant mother.

The trip was Crystal Wright’s first opportunity to participate in this mission, which she found rewarding and reinforcing of her commitment to caring for people.

Working with the Seattle King County Disaster Team was excellent; we had meetings every night to discuss our plans and performance at the clinic.  And like Dr. Brown, I did enjoy visiting the orphanage and hiking around the community, as well as greeting as many persons as possible when our clinic had closed.   My hope is to continue working with this team and seeing progress and improvement in the future, said Crystal.


Crystal and friends in the clinic’s triage area.

New this year was the integration of an emergency physician from Canada, who had extensive knowledge of Haitian history and culture, and the improved care of women’s health needs based on a study done by the Seattle King County Disaster Team last fall to evaluate care for breast disease and sexually transmitted infections. The team regularly screens patients for HIV disease and refers high risk patients to a local treatment program.


A thank-you sign from the orphanage greeting Crystal and Dr. Brown.

Next year the team hopes to resume partnering with the Haitian health ministry to work with young Haitian MDs stationed at the clinic. They also hope to provide outreach services to several more remote villages in the Leon region that do not have dispensaries via mobile teams, which convert the community’s schoolhouse into a temporary clinic.

Dispensary Siloe

Dispensary Siloe.

Proud of Pride


When the rainbow flags go up along Market Street, you know its June in San Francisco and the count-down (so to speak) begins as the city amps up for one of the largest and well-known Pride events in the world: the San Francisco Pride Celebration, as festivities begin Saturday, June 28th culminating to Sunday, June 29th with the world renowned San Francisco Pride Parade.

DEM also gets to be a part of Pride as we join our fellow city agencies and parade organizers in our activated Emergency Operations Center (EOC) as we support event operations and coordinate city resources. Our EOC will be activated at a level B so we have all the right people in the room. A level B activation includes Department of Emergency Management staff, first responder elements, and other key departments.  In the case of SF Pride, this includes the Police Department, Fire Department, ambulance providers, MTA, and parade organizers. We also will provide information to San Francisco about traffic and transit, as well as any other tips that the public needs to know about as the city celebrates Pride.

Why are we activating our Emergency Operations Center?

San Francisco routinely activates our EOC for citywide special events like New Year’s Eve, Bay to Breakers, and past and future San Francisco Giants World Series Championships.  This allows us to support event operations, coordinate city resources, and provide public information. EOC activations also give us an opportunity to practice for unplanned events and not-so-everyday emergencies like earthquakes.

What to look for from DEM.

One of our main priorities in support of San Francisco Pride is to provide the public with important information about the race (e.g., transit and traffic notifications). We will push out this information on our SF72 Crisis Map  and on @SF_Emergency.  And to kick off the public information, check out SF72’s crisis map with important parade information.

The mission of San Francisco LGBT Pride is to educate the world, celebrate our culture, commemorate our heritage, and liberate our people. And the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management is proud to play a role in support of this mission.


Tsunami Ready

Godzilla Attacks

In 2014, San Francisco has seen it all: Radioactive reptiles battling out along our waterfront and super smart apes annihilating the remnants of mankind. It’s been disastrous year for San Francisco… in the movies.  Here’s one you might have missed:

It is a cool, overcast morning in San Francisco.  It’s been a wet month with rainfall reaching record levels leaving the ground waterlogged.  It’s also Spring Break which means there are thousands of people enjoying themselves along the Embarcadero, Marina, and beaches despite the clouds.

At 8:00 a.m. a magnitude 9.1 earthquake occurs off the coast of Alaska.  Within 5 minutes of the underwater tremor, San Francisco receives an alert from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  NOAA has just declared a Tsunami Watch for the entire west coast of the United States.  A tsunami could arrive in San Francisco within four to six hours. 

Sound like a good action flick? We’ll save you the time it takes to search IMDB or Google.  This was the scenario put before dozens of emergency managers, community partners, and local, state, and federal officials during San Francisco’s three-day tsunami exercise in March.  The goals of the exercise were to practice our City’s alert and warning procedures, response capabilities, and recovery operations before, during, and after a tsunami.

EOC Staff coordinate San Francisco's response to a simulated tsunami. Photo by Michael Mustacchi

EOC Staff coordinate San Francisco’s response to a simulated tsunami. Photo by Michael Mustacchi

One might ask, “That seems like a waste of time. Isn’t the likelihood of tsunami pretty low in San Francisco?”

Great question.  San Francisco plans and prepares for all emergencies. 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.

San Francisco's Tsunami Inundation Zones

San Francisco’s Tsunami Inundation Zones

San Francisco’s tsunami risk includes neighborhoods along both the ocean and the bay. We’re fortunate that our risk for a local source tsunami, where we don’t receive much warning, is low. What is possible is a distant source tsunami. An example is an earthquake, landslide, or other seismic event that takes place off the coast of Alaska. In this scenario, a tsunami could reach San Francisco in 4 to 6 hours.

Planning for a tsunami or any emergency isn’t about preparing for Armageddon.  It’s about taking smart and practical actions.  For San Francisco, it’s practicing our skills and capabilities. The National Weather Service recently re-accredited the City and County as a Tsunami Ready and Storm Ready community in recognition of our emergency operations, capabilities to receive and issue emergency alerts, promotion of public preparedness, and response plan development and exercises. For the public, it’s about knowing what to do.  Here are some quick tips to get you started:

  • Move inland and head to higher ground during a tsunami.
  • If you are in a coastal area and feel an earthquake with strong shaking lasting a minute or more, drop, cover, and hold on until the shaking stops, then move immediately to higher ground.
  • Always wait for local authorities to tell you when it is safe to return to affected areas.

To learn more about how San Francisco plans and trains for all emergencies visit  For easy to use guides on how you can prepare visit


San Francisco DEM’s 9-1-1 Dispatchers of the Month: Spring 2014 Recap


San Francisco's 9-1-1 Dispatch Floor

San Francisco’s 9-1-1 Dispatch Floor

DEM’s 9–1–1 dispatch operations center are often the “first” first–responders whom San Franciscans reach when facing an
emergency or are in crisis. Every month a DEM Public Safety Dispatcher (PSD) is recognized for outstanding service while assisting those in crisis. The following DEM PSDs are the Spring 2014 Dispatchers of the  Month, for the compelling reasons described below.

Dispatcher of the Month (March):  Dawn Shaw

On January 30, 2014 while operating a radio channel, PSD Shaw  heard two officers speaking discreetly.  She immediately asked if there was an emergency.  Shortly after, an officer advised that a vehicle was absconding from him.  As he began to report the license plate he yelled “Oh! … he’s resisting … we have a 518 (Roll Over),” and requested two ambulances to respond.

This incident began to escalate quickly.  The Bayview sergeant requested more units to respond to the scene.  PSD Shaw broadcasted the 10-25 status (Request Backup Needed), and swiftly began adding and assigning units to respond accordingly.  This event became highly charged but PSD Shaw did not falter.  She maintained complete channel control while assigning someone to block intersections, broadcast safe avenue of approach, and direct a unit to recover a discarded bag of drugs.

PSD Shaw — along with her channel partners — was able diffuse this incident in a timely manner. She was professional, calm, and poised throughout.

Dispatcher of the Month (April): David Solis

On February 8, 2014 while off duty PSD Solis viewed a pedestrian who had been struck by a vehicle.  He immediately rendered aide and remained with the patient until paramedics arrived on scene.  The patient was transported with head injuries.

PSD Solis is being recognized his professionalism and caring act of kindness.  He went beyond the call of duty.

Dispatcher of the Month (May): Monica Juarez

On April 25, 2014 while working a fire control channel PSD Juarez received a call reporting smoke coming from a roof top. Moments later another call was received regarding visible smoke coming from a residential structure. Totally unrelated to the other calls, a third call was received with a report of flames coming from a home with persons evacuating.

It is uncommon to receive three working fires, let alone within such a short time frame. Regardless, PSD Juarez took complete control while using all available resources to achieve results. Her actions were nothing short of remarkable as she displayed confidence and remained focused throughout the process. Fortunately, all fires were contained and under control within 30 minutes with no reported injuries or medical transports.

Dispatchers of the Month (June): Command CAD Dispatcher Team 

PSD Cori Cruz; PSD Josu Garmendia; PSD Justin Wong; PSD Eileen David; PSD Dorian Lok;  PSD Ron Davis; PSD Carlos Soto; PSD Jamie DiSangro; PSD Joan Vallarino

The recent launch of the new Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD)  System involved a tremendous amount of planning and preparation and each of the aforementioned PSDs is recognized for the extra effort and valuable contributions made during initial and ongoing training of fellow dispatchers.

The upgrade has involved rigorous training and testing, yet each PSD continues to put forth great efforts. Their positive and helpful attitudes are a powerful asset to the Department of Emergency Management as we keep abreast of changing and emerging technology.


After 14 Years, New Radios at Last!

Picture3Where were you in the year 2000? It’s been awhile. Bill Clinton was President and Willie Brown was Mayor of San Francisco. “American Beauty” won the best picture Oscar, while the hit by Santana and Rob Thomas, “Smooth”, edged out Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” for a Grammy. Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist.

Have you improved and upgraded over the last 14 years? You probably have. But the radios used by San Francisco Police, Fire, and other public safety agencies haven’t. Seriously. In a digital world, the City’s 7,500 public safety radios operate on a 14-year-old analog system, first installed in the year 2000. Who thinks it’s time for an upgrade?

We do. In partnership with the Police and Fire departments and the Department of Technology, DEM is proud to lead the charge to upgrade the City’s 800 MHz Public Safety Land Mobile Radio System. It provides life-safety radio communications for San Francisco’s Police, Fire, Sheriff, Parking and Traffic, Recreation and Park, and Emergency Management (that’s us) departments. This means critical push-to-talk communications that connects instantly with the 9-1-1 dispatch center for dispatch to emergencies, or calling for backup from other officers in the field. The system uses proprietary analog technology that has now reached end of life, with no replacement parts available.

Last month we received the City’s approval – and critical funding – to finally replace this aging system with current technology. The new radios will be interoperable across the Bay Area, so when a San Francisco police officer goes over to Oakland, her radio will still work. The system will also provide better coverage, like underground in BART stations, as well as down to the Airport.

We estimate that a full system replacement should be complete by mid-2018. So just as Y2K babies will finally graduate and leave home, we’ll say goodbye to our Year 2000 radio system, and upgrade to the future. It’s about time.



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