Holiday Talks

We asked members of our San Francisco Emergency Management team to practice what they preach: Talk to your family and friends about preparedness.  Over the Thanksgiving holiday they did.  Here is one story:

My oldest sister lives overseas with her husband and two daughters.  Understandably they get homesick during this time of year.  On Facebook, she posted about all things she misses about home and reminded me about a time when I thought I was too cool to smile in those family photos around the dinner table or in front of the Christmas tree.

Today when I look back at those photos I smile.  Yes, seeing that scowling young punk is funny but mostly I remember the good times shared with family and friends.  Decorating the tree after Thanksgiving, Simbang Gabi (a Filipino Christmas Eve all-nighter), and the big New Year’s Eve Party at my parent’s house are just some the traditions we shared together.

Family discussing emergency preparedness

Start of a tradition – Our first  #holidaytalk Thanksgiving ’13.  The dogs need emergency supplies too!

Last year, we started a new tradition.  On Thanksgiving, after we stuffed ourselves we sat around the table and reviewed our family emergency plans and talked about our emergency supplies.  Why not?  Most of the people that I would want to hear from or would want to hear from me in an emergency were all in the same room.  My parents chose the neighborhood church as their emergency meeting spot, my other sister and her husband realized they needed supplies for the dogs, and my wife and I decided my brother-in-law in Ohio would be our out-of-area contact.

This year we continued the tradition and all realized that some of the food in our emergency stash was expired (whoops!).  But that’s okay.  That’s why we do it, so we can take care people we love.  We even sent our emergency plans to my sister overseas so she could join in.

Our holiday talks take about thirty minutes and then it’s back to other long time traditions… like that second serving of food!

Our team created Vines (6 second videos) of their holiday talks. Thinking about doing the same with your family or friends?  Visit for conversation ideas.  Want to share your experience? Use  #holidaytalks and tag us (@SF72org on Twitter and Instagram and @SFDEM on Facebook).

Winter is Here: Now What?

As rain continues throughout the rest of today into tomorrow, it’s looking like the worst is behind us. So, now what?

First: many (if not most) of us did something to get ready for this storm—whether it was making sure you have extra batteries and a flashlight, or talking about how you’re going to manage your kid’s school being closed— you put your emergency preparedness knowledge into practice. And for this, you all get a huge thumbs up from your friends at the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.

Second: While you can feel good about all you did to prepare for this storm, think about a few what ifs (e.g., extended grocery store closure, or power outage) and what can you do now that would make life easier if that were to occur and visit for more ideas.

Third: How’s your neighborhood doing? Is your power out? Do you know any neighbors who may need extra help? If so, we encourage you to check on them.

Fourth: Share what you did to get prepared for #hellastorm with your friends, and ask them what they did get ready (we’d love to hear about this too, so comment here or share your preparedness wins with us on @SF72org).

In closing: Guess what San Francisco? You’re more prepared than you think…and you’re more prepared today than you were yesterday!

Lights Out – Power Outages

So the lights are out. What do you do? Get a glass of wine and light some candles? Well not exactly.

First, let PG&E know that the power is out by calling 1-800-PGE-5000.  Next, unplug and turnoff appliances and leave one light on so that you know when the power comes back.  Avoid using candles – they are fire hazards especially in San Francisco. Don’t use a gas stove for heating your home or operate generators indoors. When you come to traffic signal that is not working treat it like a four-way stop. Lastly, be conservative about how you open you fridge in order to maintain its temperature and avoid eating food that has been not refrigerated for long periods of time.

The wine still a great idea though (if you are over 21).

Winter is Coming

Winter-Is-ComingNo, we’re not expecting “White Walkers” to emerge from the fog but heavy rain and high winds are headed our way on Wednesday.  While the Stark family motto of warning and caution, “Winter is Coming”, might be a little dramatic, we should remember this kind of weather can cause landslides or flooding.

Here are some simple tips to safe, dry, and make you the Jon Snow of your neighborhood:

  • Sweep up leaves and litter from their sidewalks and gutters and place them in the appropriate bins.  This can help keep storm drains from getting clogged.
  • Anywhere it rains it can flood especially if you live in a low lying area. Construct barriers to stop floodwater from entering your home or building.
  • If water has entered a garage or basement, do not walk through it. You can’t always see or smell what’s in the water and it could be harmful to you.
  • Walking through moving water is dangerous. Six inches of moving water can make you fall.  If you must walk in water, walk where the water is not moving.  Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
  • Stay clear of water that is in contact with downed power lines.
  • Keep children from playing around high water, storm drains, or any flooded areas.
  • Keep children from playing around high water, storm drains, or any flooded areas.
  • Secure patio furniture to prevent potential projectile damage in high wind conditions.
  • Do what you can safely to keep drains and downspouts clear of leaves, branches, etc. that could block water flow and lead to localized flooding.
  • Cover windows with heavy-duty plastic, or temporary wood coverings to minimize risks from flying tree branches in high-wind conditions.

Flooding can also cause headaches on roadways. The followingare important points to remember when driving in flood conditions:

  • Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and possible stalling. A foot of water will float many vehicles
  • Avoid driving through flooded roads. The depth of water is not always obvious and you could be stranded or trapped.
  • Barricades are there for your protection. Turn around and go the other way.
  • Be especially cautious driving at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.

Review your emergency supplies.  Do you have batteries for your flashlight just in case the power goes out?  Visit for more ideas.

To report rain related issued call 3-1-1. If you are in danger or have an emergency call 9-1-1.

For more information, call 3-1-1 or follow @sfpublicworks and @sf_emergency on Twitter.  You can also visit or  for additional road closure and other safety information.

DEM Recognizes Judy Hogan for 50 Years of Public Service


Judy (center) surrounded by fellow DEMers who gathered to celebrate her 50th anniversary.

DEM is proud to honor Judy Hogan, our longest-serving employee for her 50 years of public service with the City and County of San Francisco. Having began her career with the City on November 12, 1964, last week Judy Hogan was recognized for her complete 50 years of public service beginning with the Main Library, followed by the Water Department, the Department of Public Health, and the Police Department, where she was a Police Service Aide at Richmond, Park, Central, and Mission stations.


Pictured left to right: DEM Deputy Director, Rob Smutts and DEM Executive Director, Anne Kronenberg, who read aloud the Mayoral Proclamation honoring Judy for her 50 years of public service and decreed November 14, 2014 as “Judy Hogan Day in San Francisco.”

Judy first became a Public Safety Dispatcher in 1977, and has since served as a supervisor, training officer, administrative manager, and presently serves as an Operations Watch Coordinator.  Judy played in important role in creating the unified 9-1-1 Center as it exists today, working to ensure that the public receives the help they need when they face an emergency.


Congratulations, Judy!

All About That Tech

For the past two days I’ve been hanging out with some of the nation’s (and quite probably the world’s) top disaster researchers to discuss disaster communications. They invited me to provide a “from the field” perspective to academics; someone to tell them if the academic work has or will really impact those of us on the pointy end of the stick.  For the most part the science really does support what happens outside the hallowed halls (I have to say that this group has a keen interest in pursuing projects that add value to both practitioners as well as academia, and I’m grateful for that). In fact, the research some of these people did formed the foundation of

One of the things they asked me talk about was the ever popular “what keeps me up at night?” question (this question, and “are we ready?” seem to be the most popular questions for emergency managers…like asking clergy if the collar is uncomfortable). In formulating my answer, I came to the realization that, first: I really don’t get a lot of sleep for a variety of reasons; and, second: one of the biggest worries I carry around is a bit of a contradiction; I worry about our collective dependence on technology, while at the same time I’m constantly looking for more efficient and innovative ways to incorporate said technology into the response/recovery world. So what gives you ask? Has my cheese finally slid fully of the cracker?

I guess I reconcile this dichotomy like this: tech is here, it’s part of our lives…and like all things it has mechanical components and dependencies that make it vulnerable to failure. And while I want big beautiful digital displays of stuff, I know that at some point we’ll need to bust out the crayons and butcher paper.

So, the basic question is: how are people going to cope when the access to communication and information is suddenly stripped from our lives..cold turkey…for weeks? Have people thought about it? Tech is as natural as walking and is such an integral part of our lives that we risk personal safety to use it (yes, I’m referring to you…the one in the cross walk looking at your phone…really the debate on PBR v Olympia can wait 20 seconds).

I admit I’m throwing stones from my glass house because I’m just as vulnerable. Between home and work, I routinely bounce between two smart phones, two tablets and multiple other computers…not to mention satellite phones, radios, and a host of AV stuff. Humans have always been tool users and it’s prety amazing that we’ve evolved from stone to iron to mechanical to digital tools in a relatively rapid sequence, especially the last 150-200 years (anthropologists: forgive my simplified summation of thousands of years of evolution into one sentence). Our tools have gone from devices to give us a mechanical advantage to ones that give us a cognitive advantage. In other words, we made tools so we don’t have to think. Don’t believe me? Do math with a pencil. What’s your best friends phone number? Heck, what’s your phone number? Do you know how to read a map and figure out your directions? Can you recite the preamble to the Constitution? These were all things that most of us could do without digital assistance not very long ago.

My point here is that maybe we’ve lost some ability to function manually in the digital world. And again…I’m just as guilty (now I’m stuck on the Preamble dammit!! I had to learn it in 8th grade… Pushed aside by Buzzfeed and that eye searing picture of Kim Kardashian they posted, which suggests an off topic discussion of quantity vs. quality of information, but I digress…).

So what to do? Building redundancy and making systems resilient is a never ending challenge, and the information networks of today are far less fragile than they once were. Nothing is fail proof though.  That’s a simple fact of life. Even if the systems themselves are great (they’re not) don’t forget that those networks are interdependent with other networks: power, fuel, transportation, etc. It’s a lot like the old song about the thigh bone connected to the shin bone, but with all the ligaments, tendons, nerves and muscles thrown in. A failure in one or more of those components and you’re going get an up close understanding of how gravity works. Same holds true for our information conduits.

After a major earthquake we know that roads will be damaged and access limited. Fuel supply lines will be interrupted from both the production and distribution sides, and power generation and distribution may be compromised at multiple points. Without getting all doom and gloom, it’s pretty safe to say at some point we’ll be dependent on manual means to do everything from find a phone number to open a can of soup, which we may have to eat cold (bleh).

When’s the last time you wrote a document without a computer? Communicate with someone via courier or regular land line phone (no, you cannot simply drag the cord across the street so you can get coffee while on the call)? Read…or even held…a paper map? Bought something with cash? Got news/information without the internet?

For a thousand reasons the networks we rely on every day can fail, and often times they do. Most of the time the systems come back on line before our batteries die, the deadline passes or we experience anything more than annoyance. We’re back to foodie photos and pet selfies in mere moments. But what if? What if the carriers can’t restore service in moments? What are you going to do when that restoration period is days or even weeks? How do plan to cope?

I’m just saying you might want to think about it. Maybe look up for some stuff you should keep on hand and then ask Siri to find a manual can opener and some battery powered reading lights (phone books are NOT backlit) that you can buy before the lights go out.

I, for one, am going to make sure we have plenty of butcher paper, blue tape and crayons in our Emergency Operations Center. And a manual can opener (and maybe even a sterno…’cuz cold soup is kinda gross).

A Wake Up Call

Most of us are familiar with what the City and County of San Francisco’s Outdoor Public Warning System Sirens sound like thanks to the Tuesday noon test when every siren booms for several seconds followed by “This is a test. This is a test of the Outdoor Public Warning System. This is only a test.”  But hearing that siren at any time other than Tuesday at noon means something is awry.

So, being jarred from sleep by an Outdoor Public Warning siren is scary—and then to find out there was no emergency is nothing short of annoying. Unfortunately, this happened in a handful of San Francisco neighborhoods late last Saturday night and early Sunday morning.  And for this disturbance, we wholeheartedly apologize.

As we engage in extensive diagnostic testing to figure out what caused the siren activation, we know many of you have questions about the sirens.  So, in the spirit of using this wake up call as a learning opportunity, we’d like to offer the following Frequently Asked Questions regarding what happened last weekend, and about the sirens in general.

Outdoor Public Warning System


San Francisco Outdoor Public Warning System Sirens Frequently Asked Questions: 

Q: What is the Outdoor Public Warning System for?

A: The City’s Outdoor Public Warning System is designed to alert residents and visitors of San Francisco about possible danger. Specific emergency announcements can be broadcast over any one (or more) of the 112 sirens which are located on poles and on top of buildings throughout all neighborhoods in San Francisco, Treasure Island, and Yerba Buena.

Q: Why do the sirens go off every Tuesday?

A: Tuesdays at noon is the set date to test the sirens and it is during this weekly test that 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

Q: What do I do when I hear the sirens sound Tuesday at noon?

A: Take a moment to think about what you would do if confronted with an actual emergency and remind yourself to turn to traditional and/or social media for more information. Check out to learn how to be prepared for any type of emergency. It’s a good time to register for and follow @SF_Emergency if you haven’t done so already.

Q: What do I do if I hear the sirens sound if it’s not Tuesday at noon?

A: If you hear the siren at a time other than its regular test on Tuesday at noon:

  • Stop what you are doing.
  • Stay calm.
  • Listen for possible voice announcements.
  • Turn on the radio or television, (such as KCBS 740AM, KQED 88.5 FM) for important information provided by the City.
  • Avoid using the telephone. Do not call 9-1-1, unless you have a life-threatening emergency.

On rare occasion, special tests are done on other than Tuesday at noon – we will make every effort to inform the public of the date and time before these tests occur.

Q: Why did the alarm sound last weekend?

A: The cause of the siren activation is still under review.  Extensive diagnostic testing is taking place to determine the exact cause of the sirens accidentally going off.

Q: Was this a planned test?

A: No, planned tests take place Tuesday at noon. The cause of the unscheduled siren activation is still under review.

Q: What if there is an emergency Tuesday at noon and everyone thinks the siren going off is only a test?

A: Should an actual emergency take place Tuesday at noon, the Department of Emergency Management will send messages via traditional media (such as KCBS 740AM, KQED 88.5 FM), social media (@sf_emergency on Twitter, and Nextdoor), and if needed, first responders would canvas the areas impacted by the emergency.

Q: What if I can’t hear or understand what is being announced following the siren going off?

A: If it’s not Tuesday at noon, tune to traditional media such as KCBS 740AM, KQED 88.5 FM and/or social media such as @sf_emergency on Twitter, and Nextdoor.  Also, those registered for will receive information about the emergency via email and/or text message from San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.

Q: What if I can’t hear the siren at all?

A: Registering for is the City’s emergency alerting system, so please register so we can send you emergency information to your email and/or text message to your phone.

Q: What else should I do to get information about emergencies?

Register for to get an email and/or text message about the emergency and tune to traditional media such as KCBS 740AM, KQED 88.5 FM and/or social media such as @SF_Emergency, and Nextdoor.

Q: How are the sirens triggered?

A: The sirens are manually triggered by a Department of Technology technician positioned within the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.

Q: How old is the Outdoor Public Warning System?

A: 50 sirens were originally installed in 1948. System was revamped in 2005 adding more sirens and voice capability. 112 sirens are in service now.

Q:  When was it last used for an emergency?

A: It was last used in 2012 on Treasure Island to inform residents living on Treasure Island of a water main break and a boil water notice.

Q: Aren’t these sirens outdated? Why don’t we just get rid of them?

A: The short answer is that it’s important to have multiple alerting systems in the event one does not work. The silver lining in last weekend’s malfunction, is that while we were spreading the message there was no emergency in San Francisco, we also were given the opportunity to make San Franciscans aware of the numerous alerting systems in place, which in all cases include traditional media (such as KCBS 740AM, KQED 88.5 FM), social media (@sf_emergency on Twitter, and Nextdoor).

Q: Why do I hear it during Sunday Streets?

A: The siren is used in the neighborhood where that Sunday Streets took place to announce streets reopening to vehicle traffic.

Q: How many sirens are there throughout the City?

A: 112

Q: How can I locate the siren closest to my home?

A: Check out where all of the City’s Outdoor Public Warning System Sirens are located in the following maps:

Download the map of Siren locations here (PDF)
Download the list of Siren locations here (PDF)

Q: Is Gavin Newsom the narrator of the “This is a test…” message that follows the Tuesday noon siren test? [Why the Lt. Governor you may wonder?  Because people ask.]

A: No, the narrator is radio personality Dave Morey.

Q: Will the alarms sound in the event of an alien invasion?

A:  Probably, but we’re pretty sure that…and a zombie apocalypse…won’t happen.

For more information about OPWS visit

One of San Francisco's Outdoor Warning System Sirens.  Photo courtesy of

Outdoor Public Warning Sirens Temporarily Out of Service This Afternoon

San Francisco, CA – The Outdoor Public Warning System Sirens throughout the City will be temporarily out of service this afternoon to undergo additional testing to investigate the cause of the activations experienced late last night and early this morning.


The sirens will be deactivated this afternoon while being serviced.  During this temporary maintenance window, should there be a need to alert the public of an emergency, the City will leverage its numerous emergency public information resources including the City’s text and email emergency alerting, as well as traditional media and social media (via @SF_emergency and @SF72org on Twitter; on Facebook; and on Additional emergency public information dissemination strategies that can be engaged if needed include first responders canvassing impacted areas to ensure all are notified.


The Outdoor Public Warning System Sirens will be reactivated after service is concluded. For more information about the San Francisco’s Outdoor Public Warning System visit​

What Were We Doing All Year?

What happens all year at the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (DEM) anyway?  More than you thought.Annual Report cover'

  • 1,165,390 calls to 9-1-1 answered
  • 48 different languages interpreted for 9-1-1 callers
  • 290 students trained in 15 emergency management courses
  • Over 300 special event medical plans reviewed
  • 694 EMTs and 236 paramedics certified to practice in the City
  • 26 AlertSF notices sent to the public about emergency situations
  • 286 Tweets with public safety information
  • 8 Emergency Operations Center activations
  • Completion of a major replacement of the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system
  • Launch of a full replacement of the City’s 800 MHz public safety radio system
  • Launch of SF72, the San Francisco’s new platform for connection and emergency preparedness
  • Dispatchers, emergency planners, grant managers, IT specialists, and support staff working hard every day to make San Francisco a safe place to live, work, and visit.

DEM is proud of where we’ve been this past year, and excited about where we’re going.  You might be surprised by how much we do. Take a look for yourself in our FY 2013-2014 Annual Report.

Loma Prieta 25th Anniversary (LP25): An Opportunity to Commemorate, Connect, and Prepare


October 17th at 5:04 p.m. will mark the 25th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. For those of us who were in the San Francisco Bay Area during the earthquake, we saw the region come together and rebuild, and as a result become stronger and more resilient. Whether you were here to experience the Loma Prieta earthquake first hand, observing from afar, or too young (or net yet born), this anniversary means something to all of us—because living in the San Francisco Bay Area means living with the ocean, the hills, and fault lines, too.

The Loma Prieta earthquake’s 25th anniversary (LP25) commemoration is brought to the San Francisco Bay Area in partnership among government, non-profit, and private sector organizations whose missions are to respond to and recover from emergencies. The goal of LP25 is to create a series of events to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake and to develop interactive opportunities to help Bay Area residents prepare for an emergency.

So let’s come together for the 25th anniversary of the largest earthquake to occur in the Bay Area since 1906 and remember those who lost their lives, honor those who came to aide, and learn how to be ready for the next major earthquake that could occur in our beloved San Francisco Bay Area. And in doing so, enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing how to be prepared for just about any type of emergency, while discovering that you are more prepared than you think.

The LP25 Agenda

The kick-off event will take place on the eve of the anniversary Oct. 16th from 6-10 p.m. LP25 will piggy back on the California Academy of Sciences’ already amazing NightLife with a re-premier of Earthquake: Evidence of a Restless Planet! along with live music, and educational programming led by city officials and emergency preparedness experts.

The Commemoration will continue on Friday the 17th, the official anniversary of the quake, with the LP25 Preparedness Interactive from 12 noon-7:00 p.m. at the Exploratorium at Pier 15 in San Francisco. The LP25 Interactive is a dynamic educational exhibition designed to make emergency preparedness an unforgettable experience. The LP25 Interactive will take place at the Exploratorium outdoor gallery.

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As the exact time of the earthquake 25 years ago approaches (5:04 p.m.), join public officials in remembering the earthquake with a moment of silence along with recollections of Loma Prieta—and how the Bay Area is stronger as a result. The public is invited to enjoy the Exploratorium’s exhibits with free admission the Exploratorium from 4-7:00 p.m.

Following the LP25 Commemorative Program, enjoy the Taste of Preparedness (TOP) Chef Cook-Off from 5:30-6:30 p.m, hosted by the Salvation Army. The cook-off is a fun way to showcase the types of food supplies you should have stored as well as food preparation during an emergency.

Whether you were impacted by the Loma Prieta earthquake first hand, or have yet to experience an earthquake of that magnitude, The LP25 commemoration is an opportunity get us all connected and prepared before an emergency—so we can be that much better off when something happens.
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