Category Archives: Alert and Warning
Written by SFDEM Intern, Daniella Cohen
Last Friday May 29th, the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management and the San Francisco Film Commission joined forces to host a special viewing of San Andreas at the Presidio Theater. San Francisco digitally crumbled underneath a 9.6 magnitude earthquake and an impressively large tsunami proceeded to take down the Golden Gate Bridge! Dwanye Johnson delivered his action movie flare and although parts of the film were tense, we managed to share many laughs (and few “yahoos” during scenes with drop, cover, and hold on).
The Earthquake Country Alliance agreed on some things the film did a great job of portraying:
~ The importance of the “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” message for self-protection.
~The need for a backup and family reunification plan, always have a contact outside of the area all family members can report to!
~The movie demonstrates how critical previous training in first aid can be when trying to help others around you, as well as checking for injuries in times of distress.
~ Knowing that a physical sign of an impending tsunami can be seen in water that is receding.
~Cell phones are shown to not work after the earthquake in the film, with non-powered landlines remaining operational (however this may not last long either). Texting may work even better, and takes less bandwidth on networks, so Text First, Talk Second!
~The depiction of official Tsunami warning radio broadcasts and the use of sirens in San Francisco demonstrates how scientific information (delivered at the right time and in the right way) can save lives.
With that said you can rest assured that there are many organizations, agencies, and individuals that are working around the clock to prepare you for a natural disaster and to assist in responding and recovering.
We will never see the Golden Gate Bridge get crushed by a tsunami or the damage from a subduction zone earthquake, nonetheless we should brush off our emergency preparedness kits and talk shop with our families about a plan.
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 www.sf72.org to learn how to be prepared for earthquakes (along with any type of emergency), and ask your neighbors to do the same.
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 www.AlertSF.org.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 Management, San 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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
Never ones to pass up a chance to promote disaster preparedness, DEM was pleased to participate in the July 18 hearing at the Board of Supervisors Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee on Storm Preparedness and Response. DEM works closely with the Public Utilities Commission, Department of Public Works, Municipal Transportation Agency and other city agencies to help prepare San Francisco for potential flooding, debris, power outages, and traffic impacts of major storms.
How DEM sends public information, notification and/or warnings:
DEM also use several communications tools to keep the public informed during storms, and any major disaster, including:
- AlertSF – (www.alertsf.org)
- Twitter – @sf_emergency
- Sirens – 113 in our Outdoor Public Warning System
- Wireless Emergency Alerts – direct to cell phones
DEM also has an assigned Duty Officer who monitors emergency situations and provides information updates to key city officials 24X7. Our 9-1-1 dispatch center handles almost all incoming emergency calls from the public, can take calls in more than 170 languages, and dispatches all Police, Fire, and Emergency Medical services in San Francisco.
After the storm:
After a storm, fire, or other emergency that destroys housing, DEM coordinates closely with the Human Services Agency, American Red Cross, and the San Francisco Housing Authority to ensure a safe place to stay for any displaced San Franciscans. We also work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to get reimbursement for San Francisco for certain costs incurred from storm damage or for extraordinary efforts made by the city to respond to the disaster.
We are very grateful to Supervisor Eric Mar for shining a spotlight on all that the city can do to get ready for the next big storm season this fall.