Category Archives: EOC Activations

Will it Work at 0200?

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.


Pictured Left to Right, Amy Ramirez and Edie Schaffer working on the 2014 Hazard Mitigation Plan.

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.


Edie Schaffer on the left with Treasure Island Development Authority stakeholders discussing tsunamis.

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

Getting the Word Out

Outdoor Public Warning System

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

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

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

The Outdoor Public Warning System 

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

The sirens are tested at noon every Tuesday. During the weekly test, the siren emits a single 15 second alert tone, similar to an emergency vehicle siren. In the event of a disaster, the 15 second alert tone will sound repeatedly for 5 minutes. For more information visit


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

Twitter: @sf_emergency

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

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)

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


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

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

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

The Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami: Two Years Later

Photo from the Associated Press: Relatives of of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami victims offer chrysanthemums during the national memorial service to commemorate the second anniversary of the disaster on March 11 in Tokyo.

Photo from the Associated Press: Relatives of of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami victims offer chrysanthemums during the national memorial service to commemorate the second anniversary of the disaster on March 11 in Tokyo.

Two years ago today the most powerful known earthquake ever to have hit Japan, and the fifth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900 occurred. The earthquake triggered a powerful tsunami, which reached the California coast.

The tsunami resulted in a Tsunami Warning for San Francisco, and in response, the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (DEM) partially activated our city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC).  Two years ago the EOC was buzzing with teams representing a variety of response agencies and organizations as we worked together to prepare for the waves reaching the shore.  One activity of primary importance was making sure those who live and work in San Francisco knew about the tsunami warning and what to do.

DEM used every tool in its tool chest to inform the public of the tsunami warning.  These tools included social media (@sf_emergency and DEM’s Facebook page); traditional media with DEM Deputy Director Rob Dudgeon giving many interviews with the press, which aired on local news stations frequently through the day; and, we issued warnings and alerts on our text and email notification system, AlertSF.

DEM urges anyone who lives and works in San Francisco and who has not yet registered for AlertSF, to commemorate this second anniversary of the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, which posed an incontrovertible risk to San Francisco, by registering.  This system is the most reliable of our tools as we cannot guarantee social networks won’t be overloaded and when/if the press will report through radio and television networks.

As we look back two years ago today, we offer a DEM Blog from the archives commemorating the first year anniversary. As time always passes, for us at DEM the sentiment does not.

When SF Celebrates SF DEM Activates

All smiles (working in the EOC on Sunday night isn't so bad when you work with great people)!

San Francisco has no shortage of things to celebrate—most recently being the 49ers NFC Championship Game. Although we were disappointed our team lost the game, we do not see this as a total loss. Why? Because when the masses in San Francisco celebrate, we have cause to activate the City and County of San Francisco’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). And activate our EOC is what we did to support the various coordination needs that arise with big events such as an NFC Championship game.

Most who have interacted with DEM Division of Emergency Services Director, Rob Dudgeon (AKA sfdemRob) have heard him refer to himself as “just a medic” (for those who don’t know Rob, he spent four years as an EMT and 15 years as a Paramedic before joining DEM). Rob sees these special events as opportunities to hone our skills as a local-level department of emergency management.  “When I was training to become a medic, one of my instructors said it was better to learn how to read an X Ray without issues before learning to read one with issues” he says, “and the same rings true for us as emergency managers.”

2100 and still going strong!

So, DEM treats celebratory events of city-wide significance as opportunities to test our skills, plans and procedures so when we activate for an emergency or disaster, we are practiced, focused and confident.

The 49ners did not win, which means we will not need to activate our EOC for a Superbowl. Silently, some of us are breathing a sigh of relief. But there are many more opportunities to activate our EOC on the horizon, including the 101st Bay to Breakers race in May and the America’s Cup in August. Then there are events we cannot schedule (the not-fun, emergent kinds) but when they do happen, we will quickly and efficiently get to work. So until then, Go Giants! Just kidding…