Category Archives: Preparedness

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

Leo & Teresa: Everyday Preparedness in Their Own Words

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,
and principals.

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.

Emergency Preparedness
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, and


San Andreas Recap-What a Night at the Movies!

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.




Community members, emergency management professionals and earthquake scientists gathered for a fun film and were able to share some lessons about preparedness along the way!


San Francisco Fire Department reps and DEM's Kristin Hogan with our special guest!

San Francisco Fire Department reps and DEM’s Kristin Hogan with our special guest!


Guests with

Lee Housekeeper, Fire Chief Hayes-White, Dave Ebarle, and SFFD Firefighter hanging with the man of the hour!

Lauren Machado and Susannah Robbins of FilmSF

Panelists Lauren Machado and Susannah Robbins of FilmSF


Fellow N.E.R.T. members enjoying the scene!

Fellow N.E.R.T. members enjoying the scene!

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.

Kate Long of CalOES and Ross Stein of USGS

Panelists Kate Long of CalOES and Ross Stein of USGS

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.

Panelist Amy Sinclair of the SFPUC discussing the importance of having stored water for emergencies.

Panelist Amy Sinclair of the SFPUC discussing the importance of having stored water for emergencies.

 Visit for preparedness and emergency kit tips! Over and out from the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management-back to work on keeping our communities safe!

Fire Safety and Prevention is in Your Hands

How to Use a Fire Extinguisher Remember the word P.A.S.S PULL -Place the extinguisher on the floor. Hold it by the tank (pressure on the handle could pinch the pin). Pull the pin straight out. AIM -Start 10 feet back from the fire. Aim at the base of the fire. SQUEEZE -Squeeze the lever on the fire extinguisher SWEEP -Sweep from side to side, moving in slowly until the fire is out.

How to Use a Fire Extinguisher
Remember the word P.A.S.S
PULL – Place the extinguisher on the floor. Hold it by the tank (pressure on the handle could pinch the pin). Pull the pin straight out.
AIM – Start 10 feet back from the fire. Aim at the base of the fire.
SQUEEZE – Squeeze the lever on the fire extinguisher
SWEEP – Sweep from side to side, moving in slowly until the fire is out.

Last night’s 4-Alarm Fire in the Mission was tragic as one person lost their life and dozens were left without a home.   As fire investigators determine what happened it is important to remember that there are simple things you can do prevent a fire in your home.   Here are a few:

  • Never leave candles unattended.
  • Don’t overload extension cords.
  • Never leave food on the stove or in the oven unattended.
  • Always unplug small appliances when they are not in use to prevent overheating as well as conserving electricity.
  • Keep combustibles away from space heaters or other heat producing appliances.
  • Allow sufficient space around computers to let them vent properly.
  • Keep your eyes open! If your lights dim every time you plug something in, it could be a sign something is wrong. Likewise, if your circuit breaker keeps tripping, then you should call an electrician to help you.
  • If you see a fire starting at a wall outlet, pull the plug out of the wall and turn off the power to the outlet. Then call 9-1-1.  It is important you do not put water on an electrical fire as this only make things worse.

Finally, remember that smoke alarms should be installed inside every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level.  Test all smoke alarms at least once a month and replace batteries every six months; however, we recommend upgrading to an extended life smoke alarm (for example: 10 year smoke alarm).

Ready for more?   The San Francisco Fire Department has additional resources to educate yourself and others about fire safety.  Visit  or take the City’s free Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) training to prepare for any emergency.

The San Francisco 2014 Hazard Mitigation Plan

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requires states, Indian tribes, and local governments to develop hazard mitigation plans as a condition for receiving pre- and post-disaster mitigation grant funding, which is why San Francisco recently updated its Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP) to ensure we are positioned to receive these funds, should we need them.

San Francisco’s 2014 HMP was approved by FEMA early last month. The plan also has been adopted by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors.

What goes into a Hazard Mitigation Plan?

In order for a city or county to receive federal mitigation funds, its hazard mitigation plan must profile the natural hazards that impact the area, and must select strategies for mitigating those hazards. San Francisco’s 2014 HMP also covers human-caused hazards, which include hazardous materials, energy shortages, terrorist events, and cyberterrorism. In addition, the 2014 HMP covers climate change (sea level rise, temperature rise, and precipitation changes).

What Makes San Francisco’s HMP Special?

What makes San Francisco’s 2014 HMP unique is the addition of climate change and how to mitigate its affects. Additional elements that made the plan (and its development) stand out include:

  • San Francisco’s 2014 HMP assesses risks to the City from natural and human-caused hazards, and to provide mitigation strategies for reducing the impact of those risks.
  • The 2014 HMP represents the City’s commitment to take action to help reduce risk and create a safer, more resilient San Francisco. The plan also serves as a guide for City leaders as they commit resources to reduce the effects of hazards on our community.
  • The coordinated preparation of the 2014 HMP: The plan was developed in cooperation with representatives from 20 City departments.
  • San Francisco’s 2014 HMP has been adopted by Mayor Ed Lee and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and was approved by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on November 4, 2014. The 2014 HMP remains effective for five years.
  • FEMA approval of local hazard mitigation plans is a prerequisite to receive federal disaster funding such as pre- and post-disaster hazard mitigation grants, and flood mitigation grants. Local hazard mitigation plans must be revised and re-approved by FEMA every five years to continue to be eligible for this federal funding. The 2014 HMP updates and replaces the HMP approved by FEMA in 2009.
  • The San Francisco 2014 HMP Planning Team will continue to meet over the next five years to monitor implementation of the HMP, and will seek funding to begin work on hazard mitigation strategies selected as part of the 2014 plan.

Who Developed the San Francisco HMP?

San Francisco’s  HMP development was led by DEM’s Lead Planner, Amy Ramirez, and Edie Schaffer, Emergency Planner.

“For me, the best thing about working on this plan was getting to meet and work with city representatives that I had not met before,  ” said Edie Schaffer.  “Everyone on our HMP Planning Team stepped up, and shared both their time and expertise; we could not have done this without them. The HMP Planning Team will keep working together over the next five years to implement the plan.”

DEM will begin the process of updating this version of the HMP in 2017. As Edie said, “We worked so hard on the plan. It’s not something that will sit on the shelf; we are using the plan to seek funding to implement the mitigation strategies chosen by the Planning Team.”

The 2014 HMP Development Team:

  • Alicia Johnson (DEM): Public and stakeholder outreach planning and implementation
  • Robert Stengel (DEM): New hazard profiles; plan review
  • Francis Zamora (DEM): Public information and outreach; HMP web site design and maintenance
  • Brian Strong (Capital Planning Program): CCSF assets and planning projects; HAZUS study of critical CCSF facilities
  • Neil Friedman (Department of Building Inspection (DBI)): CCSF building inventory; DBI mitigation projects; UMBs
  • Cal Broomhead (Department of Environment (DOE)): Hazard assessment; DOE capabilities and mitigation projects
  • Calla Ostrander (DOE) Hazard assessment, DOE capabilities and mitigation projects
  • Naveena Bobba (Department of Public Health (DPH)): Hazard assessment, DPH capabilities and mitigation projects
  • Teri Dowling (DPH): Hazard assessment; DPH capabilities and mitigation projects
  • Cynthia Chono (Department of Public Works (DPW)): Hazard assessment, DPW capabilities and mitigation projects
  • Micah Hilt (Earthquake Safety Implementation Program (ESIP)): ESIP capabilities and mitigation projects
  • Patrick Otellini (ESIP): ESIP capabilities
  • Carla Johnson (Mayor’s Office of Disability): Input and guidance on people with disabilities and access and functional needs
  • Dave Sullivan (Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC)): Hazard assessment, NCRIC capabilities, and mitigation projects
  • Nick Majeski (Office of City Administrator, General Services Agency (GSA)): GSA capabilities
  • Matt Hansen (Office of the City Administrator, Risk Management Program): Asset lists, CCSF Floodplain Administrator delegatee, flood-related mitigation projects
  • Leo Levenson (Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure): Land use and development
  • Scott Edmondson (Planning Department): Land use and development, climate change
  • Lily Langlois (Planning Department): Planning capabilities and mitigation projects
  • Teresa Ojeda (Planning Department): GIS, land use and development
  • Sidonie Sansom (Port of San Francisco): Port assets, capabilities, and mitigation projects
  • John Updike (Real Estate Division):CCSF assets
  • Karen Mauney-Brodek (Recreation and Parks Department (RPD)): RPD capabilities and mitigation projects
  • Angelica Quicksey (RPD): Hazard assessment, RPD capabilities and mitigation projects
  • Jeff Airth (San Francisco International Airport (SFO)): SFO capabilities and mitigation projects
  • Toshia Marshall (SFO): SFO assets, capabilities, and mitigation projects
  • Assistant Deputy Chief Kyle Merkins (San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD)): SFFD capabilities and mitigation projects, fire-related hazards
  • Scarlett Lam (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA)):Hazard assessment, SFMTA assets and capabilities
  • Mary Ellen Carroll (San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC)): SFPUC assets and mitigation projects
  • Joshua Keene (SFPUC): SFPUC assets
  • Brad Wilson (SFPUC): SFPUC assets, capabilities, and mitigation projects
  • Bob Beck (Treasure Island Development Agency (TIDA)): TIDA assets, capabilities, and mitigation projects
  • Peter Summerville (TIDA): TIDA assets, capabilities, and mitigation projects

Special thanks to SFPUC David Behar, Climate Program Director, SFPUC Chair, CCSF Sea Level Rise Committee

Special Note:

Amy Ramirez and Edie Schaffer presented at the 2014 International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) Annual Conference last November regarding local hazard mitigation planning. They brought handouts for 25 people — more than 200 attended.  A goal of San Francisco’s 2014 HMP development team is to share their most successful strategies in development the HMP, and to make this information available so that other local jurisdictions can develop their own HMPs  “in-house.”

For inquiries about the San Francisco 2014 HMP and the process to develop it, please email and

Pictured Left to Right, Amy Ramirez and Edie Schaffer working on the 2014 HMP.

Pictured Left to Right, Amy Ramirez and Edie Schaffer working on the 2014 HMP.



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 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.

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

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


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.