Category Archives: Resilience
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
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.
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 www.sf72.org for conversation ideas. Want to share your experience? Use #holidaytalks and tag us (@SF72org on Twitter and Instagram and @SFDEM on Facebook).
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.
Where were you in the year 2000? It’s been awhile. Bill Clinton was President and Willie Brown was Mayor of San Francisco. “American Beauty” won the best picture Oscar, while the hit by Santana and Rob Thomas, “Smooth”, edged out Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” for a Grammy. Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist.
Have you improved and upgraded over the last 14 years? You probably have. But the radios used by San Francisco Police, Fire, and other public safety agencies haven’t. Seriously. In a digital world, the City’s 7,500 public safety radios operate on a 14-year-old analog system, first installed in the year 2000. Who thinks it’s time for an upgrade?
We do. In partnership with the Police and Fire departments and the Department of Technology, DEM is proud to lead the charge to upgrade the City’s 800 MHz Public Safety Land Mobile Radio System. It provides life-safety radio communications for San Francisco’s Police, Fire, Sheriff, Parking and Traffic, Recreation and Park, and Emergency Management (that’s us) departments. This means critical push-to-talk communications that connects instantly with the 9-1-1 dispatch center for dispatch to emergencies, or calling for backup from other officers in the field. The system uses proprietary analog technology that has now reached end of life, with no replacement parts available.
Last month we received the City’s approval – and critical funding – to finally replace this aging system with current technology. The new radios will be interoperable across the Bay Area, so when a San Francisco police officer goes over to Oakland, her radio will still work. The system will also provide better coverage, like underground in BART stations, as well as down to the Airport.
We estimate that a full system replacement should be complete by mid-2018. So just as Y2K babies will finally graduate and leave home, we’ll say goodbye to our Year 2000 radio system, and upgrade to the future. It’s about time.
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.
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.