Category Archives: Disasters
Commentary related to disasters worldwide.
Guest Blog by: Edie Schaffer
How do you write emergency plans that work at zero dark thirty hours? DEM’s Lead Emergency Planner, Amy Ramirez, and I have been invited to speak on this topic at the International Association of Emergency Managers Annual Conference in Savannah, Georgia during the week of October 17, 2016. Consider this blog a preview of coming attractions, and a summary of some important lessons I’ve learned from Amy since I joined DEM in 2013.
So, how do we write emergency plans that actually help people in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) quickly understand what they need to do to coordinate information and resources in support of field responders during a disaster? Emergency planners here at DEM use this question as both a spur and a touchstone.
When deciding what to include in an emergency plan, we literally ask: Will it help us get the job done at 0200 hours? Is this information something emergency managers need to know to do our jobs in the EOC after a severe earthquake or other major incident? If not, why include it? Similarly, when deciding how to organize an emergency plan, we ask: When I walk into the EOC at 0200, what do I need to know at a minimum to successfully coordinate this incident? Answering this question has led us to reorganize DEM’s emergency plans to include, up front in Section 1, what we call our “Critical Action Guide.”
Traditional emergency plans begin with a purpose and scope section, a list of assumptions the plan author made in writing the plan, and other introductory material. But after talking with the people who use our plans—other emergency managers—we realized the tools plan users need to hit the EOC running shouldn’t be hidden in the middle of a plan. They should be front loaded for easy access; this is the purpose of the Critical Action Guide.
The Critical Action Guide is an abbreviated version of the plan, designed to function as a tear-away resource for San Francisco EOC and Department Operations Center (DOC) personnel. For example, a Critical Action Guide for a hazard-specific plan (e.g., an earthquake or tsunami plan) typically includes an overview of possible actions needed to successfully coordinate the incident; a critical decision matrix to assist users making significant decisions (e.g., do we evacuate the tsunami inundation area or not?); an event coordination task list of critical steps to take to coordinate the incident; and a roles and responsibilities table showing hazard-related duties of each department or agency involved.
Speaking of agency and departmental involvement one of the most important aspects of emergency planning is something we might miss if we focus only on the words on the page. It’s the people who work together to develop and maintain the plan. It’s the partnerships we forge as we work together on the plan. It’s the challenges we face together as we finish and implement the plan. Without input and support from our partners, our plans are paper tigers. When they embody the collective knowledge, expertise, and experience of the departments and agencies involved, our plans become an essential blueprint for how we’ll work together to protect and restore San Francisco after disaster strikes (even in the middle of the night).
Edie Schaffer joined the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management as an Emergency Planner in 2013. Since then she’s revised San Francisco’s Hazard Mitigation Plan and Tsunami Annex. She’s now working on a revision of our Disaster Debris Management Plan. Edie’s favorite thing about her work is going home at night with the feeling that she’s done something to help make San Francisco safer and stronger.
Learn more about San Francisco’s Emergency Plans by visiting http://sfdem.org/plans-0
San Francisco middle school-aged students were invited to share their ideas on how they can make emergency preparedness part of their everyday lives. The contest was sponsored by the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, San Francisco Fire Department, and the San Francisco History Association. San Francisco middle school students Leo Schutzendorf and Teresa Y. Lee were recognized as the winners of the contest on the 110th Anniversary of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. As co-awardees, Leo and Teresa received a $250 scholarship furnished by the San Francisco History Association and a future ride on the San Francisco Fire Department’s new fire boat.
Here is what Leo and Teresa had to say:
Get Ready to Shake!
By Leo Schutzendorf
San Francisco is my home. I was born here and have lived here eleven years (so far!). I like living here because there are great restaurants and a lot of fun things to do. However, it is also a city spanning two tectonic plates: the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate (the Farallon Islands are on the Pacific Plate). Since it spans two tectonic plates, earthquakes are frequent and come with little warning. Preparedness is very important and that is what this essay is about.
Earthquake preparedness means getting ready by knowing what to during the quake and having supplies for after the quake. Most are too small to feel, but no one knows when a larger quake will strike. Unlike a hurricane, there is not much warning. The second the ground starts to shake people need to know what to do otherwise there would be a lot of chaos and more people would be hurt.
Before the earthquake starts:
1. Get emergency supplies together. Have water, food, and a first aid kit. If possible, it is also good to have extra clothes, a flashlight, and a radio.
2. Practice earthquake drills often so people automatically know what to do during the quake. This is good for school and home.
3. Get to know your neighbors so you can help each other out if needed.
When the earth starts to move:
1. Drop to your knees. It is easy to fall over if you are standing.
2. Cover your head and neck with your hands and arms. Get under a table if possible. Also get away from windows. The glass might shatter.
3. Hold on until the shaking stops.
4. If you are outside, get to an open area so things don’t fall on you. Then drop, cover, and hold on.
5. Get ready for aftershocks.
It might be harder for a child to do some of the things to get ready for an earthquake. Some of things we can do are:
1. talk with our families and our schools about making sure we do practice drills,
2. volunteer to check the emergency supplies every year and make a list of things that
need to be replaced (food, water, batteries, etc.),
3. share this information with other kids so they will also tell their parents, teachers,
By doing these things, everyone will know what to do to stay safe. I think parents know this is important but they are busy working and sometimes earthquake preparedness gets put on the “I’ll do it later” list. Kids will want to help their parents get ready so that they are not sorry when the quake happens.
When I tell people I live in the “Ring of Fire” it sounds very cool, but 90% of the world’s earthquakes happen in the Ring of Fire. There is no avoiding earthquakes while living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Your best chance of surviving an earthquake is to be prepared for one.
By Teresa Y. Lee
Emergency preparedness is vital! To me, emergency preparedness is daily preparation for any disaster that may occur. At home, my family has kept an emergency backpack with our first aid kit necessary for an earthquake. Every year, my family and I would check our emergency backpack and review our fire evacuation plans.
I wish that one day, there will be a national holiday dedicated for emergency preparedness. People will learn about the possible disasters that can occur in their neighborhood and know how to prepare for it. On the national holiday, all adults will be trained at work by being aware of all the emergency exits in the building and knowing the safety procedures during an emergency. On top of that, they can share their knowledge to friends and family.
Meanwhile, students should be able to perform the basic steps during an emergency at school and at home. During a family gathering, parents and children should devote some time to discuss an escape plan and develop an emergency backpack.
To accelerate the awareness of emergency preparation, we should provide incentive to local stores to sell emergency backpacks with the basic items needed in an earthquake. In the stores, there could also be personalized emergency items such as prescription or baby formula that others might also need during an emergency. People who are busy can just buy a backpack and purchase other items they may need. Others can pack everything at home. If people already have everything set, they could help relatives or friends pack emergency backpacks.
I can also make other small changes that I believe is significant to others. For example, I can find a day to meet all my friends for emergency shopping. We can shop for emergency items to put in our backpacks. In addition, because I’m on the student council at my school, I can ask the principal if we can designate a day for earthquake preparedness at my school. On that day we can promote basic emergency supplies such as flashlight and bandages to students. Another idea to influence safety preparation to other teens is to create a thirty-second film and have all movie theaters show it before the movie. This can increase the awareness more rapidly, if the practice can be shown at all movie theaters nation-wide.
These small changes will have a big impact to the community. If everyone is well prepared, natural disasters will not be a scary event and if word about emergency preparedness is wide spread, many lives can be saved.
Congratulations, Leo and Teresa!
Feeling inspired? San Francisco provides a variety of resources to help San Franciscan’s prepare for any emergency. The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management’s SF72 program provides information about what to do in an emergency, simple steps to get you connected to your community, and useful guides to help you prepare. The San Francisco Fire Department’s Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) program is a free training program for individuals, neighborhood groups and community-based organizations. Through this program, individuals will learn the basics of personal preparedness and prevention. The training also includes hands-on disaster skills that will help individuals respond to a personal emergency as well as act as members of a neighborhood response team.
For more information visit, www.sf72.org and http://sf-fire.org/neighborhood-emergency-response-team-nert.
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.
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 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
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.
- Public 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…
The 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.
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.
Thursday was a special day for Mabuhay Manila delegates as President Benigno S. Aquino III took time out of his busy schedule to thank Mayor Edwin M. Lee and San Francisco for their support in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management also go a little bit of love from the President of the Philippines:
“On top of this, I also hear that, in the next few days, some officials from the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management will be flying to Bohol to share best practices with our local disaster management officials. This is truly heartwarming; it proves that our respective cities are sister cities not only in word but more importantly also in deed. On behalf of the Filipino people, I cannot overstate our gratitude. With your help—along with the unwavering support of our countrymen and friends the world over—our campaign to build back better continues with even more resolve. We can all look forward to the time when the survivors of Yolanda can take full control over their destinies once again.”
Watch President Aquino’s Full Address to the San Francisco delegation:
The first two days of the Mabuhay Manila mission were all about encouraging trade and business. The delegation visited the Center for International Trade and Missions where we previewed Philippine-made products that you may one day see at Crate & Barrell or Whole Foods. Delegates also participated in forums with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry about doing business in Manila and San Francisco.
Naturally, as emergency managers, we had to find our own spin on things. We asked three things business leaders from Bay Area and Manila would share with customers about being prepared.
Dennis Biscocho, President, Bisocho Insurance Agency, Farmers Insurance
Dennis knows a thing or two about emergencies. He was on the ground with the Farmers Insurance Emergency Response team following the San Bruno gas explosion and fire.
- Have an emergency kit nearby and accessible.
- Have adequate coverage. Remember your homeowners or renters insurance doesn’t cover damage from an earthquake. In the Bay Area, you need earthquake insurance too.
- Safeguard the things that are important to you like documents, photos, or mementos.
Jason Yi Ming Han, Vice President of Business Development, Anada-USA
Jason specializes in travel and you’ll find that preparing for a trip is similar to preparing for an emergency.
- Safeguard your documents. Keep your passport and other important travel documents in a safe place. A TIP FROM DEM: Upload your important documents whether for travel or life to the cloud.
- Prepare a safety card with your doctor’s information, important phone numbers, and meeting locations. Sounds like preparing an emergency plan to us!
- Know the local culture. Customs may be different in another country. Researching your destination allows you have a smoother trip. Knowing to drop, cover, and hold during an earthquake will help you too!
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry is enthusiastic about helping Filipinos in a disaster. Here are three things the private sector in the Philippines can do.
- Provide education and engagement. The chamber can educate their members and customers about how to prepare for an emergency. The PCCI is considering forming a private sector disaster coordinating council to help Filipinos.
- Businesses can help with response and relief. Private industry has the logistical capability and systems in place to deliver and distribute much needed supplies.
- PCCI can help the Philippines recover and get back on its feet. Their members have the capital and resources to invest and help Filipinos get back to normal.
Our team enjoyed meeting with business leaders in the Philippines. Soon, the focus of our mission shifts to the business of emergency management. Beginning Thursday, the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management will spend our time in Philippines meeting with Filipino emergency managers, first responders, and local authorities involved with the Bohol Earthquake and Typhoon Yolanda relief and recovery efforts.