Category Archives: SMEM

Anything related to social media for emergency management.

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.

Ibahagi Ang Kaalaman (Share the Knowledge)

Bohol Earthquake

The rubble of the Church of Our Lady of Light in Bohol.

Last year the Philippines was hit by not one, but two, disasters in the span of 24 days. A magnitude 7.2 earthquake shook the province of Bohol. It was the deadliest earthquake in the Philippines in 23 years. Three weeks later the most powerful typhoon in history made landfall, resulting in catastrophic damage and loss of life.

The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management will join Mayor Edwin M. Lee and the San Francisco-Manila Sister Cities Committee on a business, cultural, and rebuilding mission to the Philippines. During our mission we’ll meet with emergency managers, first responders, dispatchers, and local authorities from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Manila Emergency Management, and TaRSIER 1-1-7.

So what is our mission?  Ibahagi Ang Kaalaman — or “Share the Knowledge” in Tagalog.  For an emergency manager, a 9-1-1 dispatcher, and a communicator, it’s about sharing our experiences and best practices.  For our hosts, it’s sharing the hard lessons learned from Mother Nature’s wrath.

Rob Dudgeon

Rob Dudgeon, Deputy Director

Rob Dudgeon’s job includes managing San Francisco’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC).  He often shares his expertise with fellow emergency managers, and has learned valuable lessons from those who have faced disaster first hand.  Rob and his team know the importance of not only sharing information but also resources, and during Hurricane Sandy, Rob’s team gave much-needed relief to tired emergency managers.

Following a disaster it’s natural to want to help.  But often times, well-intentioned people have to be turned away.  This was true in the Philippines.  In his research for this upcoming mission, Rob found that the Philippines had an influx of volunteers following the dual disasters, yet couldn’t accommodate everyone who wanted to help.  We have no doubt that people in San Francisco will help each other in an emergency, yet are we properly prepared for others to come to our aid?  Rob will have in-depth conversations with local authorities and volunteers to share his experiences managing response and recovery, as well as learn how we can most effectively utilize volunteers in an emergency.

Cecile Soto

Cecile Soto, 9-1-1 Operations Manager

Cecile Soto, a Filipina who immigrated to the United States in 1985, has managed everyday emergencies for the past 20 years as a public safety dispatcher.  It is commonly known that in an emergency you call “9-1-1”.  But this was not always the case.  It wasn’t until 1968 that 9-1-1 became the national emergency number in America.  The Philippine national emergency number, 1-1-7, is just over ten years old.

For Cecile, the trip is opportunity to give back to the country of her birth by sharing what she’s learned in her 20 years as a dispatcher.  It’s also an opportunity to gain insight from the texting capital of the world.  The low cost of a cell phone and SMS plan compared to that of a computer and a broadband connection has made texting extremely popular in Philippines.  So naturally, Filipinos can text 1-1-7 in an emergency.  This is something we’re barely starting to do the United States.  Our mission to Bohol includes a visit to their 1-1-7 dispatch center where we will learn first-hand from Filipino emergency dispatchers who are already accepting text messages for police, fire, and medical emergencies.

Francis Zamora

Francis Zamora, Public Information Officer

Francis Zamora, also a Filipino-American, is responsible for communicating with the public during an emergency.  His job is to develop and deliver messages everyone can understand during crisis – whether through the press, social media, or the good ole’ Tuesday Noon Siren (or what some call their Tuesday Burrito Call).

In conversations with relatives and Philippine officials about Typhoon Yolanda, Francis found that many Filipinos simply didn’t understand the danger they faced.  Before Yolanda, there was no Tagalog term for “Storm Surge.”  Now there is some debate as to whether describing the effects of the typhoon as a tsunami, daluyong (big waves), or humbak (swells at sea) would have been more effective.  Understanding “Storm Surge” is even difficult in the United States.  During Hurricane Sandy many people didn’t listen to warnings to get out of water’s way because many didn’t know what “Storm Surge” meant.  For Francis, the trip is an opportunity to meet everyday Filipinos and find out what messages make sense to them.  He’ll spend time with fellow communicators to develop messages everyone – whether in the Philippines or in San Francisco – can understand in an emergency.

There is so much we can share with each other:  In San Francisco, we ask that you connect, prepare, and plan on  In the Philippines, wants to make sure that Manila is a prepared and resilient city. The Philippines recently passed a bill requiring text message disaster alerts.  This week mobile phones throughout the Bay Area flashed numerous Wireless Emergency Alerts.  We can’t assume that what works in San Francisco will work in the Philippines, however we do have an opportunity to listen and share, and perhaps teach others about effectively engaging our communities.

Three staff members from San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management will travel to the Philippines from February 16 to February 24.  Their mission will include exchanges with emergency managers, first responders, and local authorities in Manila and Bohol.  Follow the mission by liking SFDEM on Facebook, following @SF72org on Twitter, or by subscribing to the SFDEM Blog:

An EM Lesson from NASA

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week or two, you’ve likely  noticed that Curiosity has landed on Mars. Curiosity is NASA’s latest Mars Rover designed to look for signatures of life on the Red Planet. It’s quite a different mission than Shuttles throttling through space, but it is still consistent exploration into the beyond.

A little history…

NASA was established in early 1958 in direct correlation to The Cold War with the Soviet Union. Perhaps the heyday of NASA was during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations when Astronauts traveled to the moon. But the nature of the world slowly changed, even in the 1960’s, major television news failed to cover launches and landings unless there was some degree of unforeseen danger. Apollo 13 is an excellent example of the lack of media coverage until a crisis erupts.

Move into the Shuttle program, which began in 1981 and ended in 2011 with the final landing of Shuttle Atlantis. In between there were several launches, landings and heart wrenching accidents. Kids applied to Space Camps and eagerly studied the images of the Hubble Telescope, but for the most part the many NASA programs progressed in some degree of obscurity.

Enter Social Technologies…

NASA is the king of creative social media. They are a bureaucratic, federal agency, yet some how find the way to be real, transparent and gain support via new media solutions. Mainstream TV doesn’t broadcast landings or launches anymore – gone are the days of the Apollo missions, yet more and more people are intrigued, interested and dedicated to NASA’s success. Curiosity was named in a social competition, by 12 year old Clara Ma, they have educated and made a fans for life with various launch and landing Tweetups, Astronauts have logged into Foursquare from space, and absolutely breathtaking photographs from the likes of @AstroRon have been tweeted from the International Space Station, to name just a few.

Social has undeniably impacted NASA. Stephanie Schierholz, NASA’s first Social Media Manager, notes, “The real value of NASA’s use of social media can be seen in the level of engagement and the communities that form around them. It is called social media because our fans and followers have a reasonable expectation that their questions may be answered and their comments heard. By responding and interacting with them, NASA has the opportunity to educate, inform, and inspire.”

Can EM learn from NASA…

If you’re a space nerd, like me, having real-time, personal access to all things NASA is pretty damn cool. But what’s the practical application for the field of Emergency Management? While watching the live UStream of Curiosity’s landing (here’s a play by play), it occurred to me that the operations center looks largely like an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and while we may hesitate to open up EOC operations to the world via live streaming video, we could easily open portions of our work to better educate and prepare the public we serve.

In the previous blog, SFDEM told Twitter followers, We Hear You. We lifted the kimono a bit to explain why we do what we do and how we will try better to bridge the gap between information and overwhelm. It’s a first step, but it cannot stop there. If emergency management, as a field, desires to create a culture of preparedness and build resilience it has to be more than simple one-way messaging. NASA cannot expect to create fans of space exploration by simply showing the latest launch, photo or tragedy on television and likewise emergency management cannot assume that the images of the latest disaster, or directions to make a kit or pick a meeting place will create a more resilient and responsive community.

NASA has proven that it takes interaction. Concerted, direct conversations, unique, engaging opportunities to educate, inform and inspire generations, both old and new, to the wonders of science and space. Can the field of emergency management do the same for preparedness and resilience?

Alicia D. Johnson is the Resilience and Recovery Manager at SFDEM. She is a strong advocate for innovation in disaster and human resilience. She can be reached on Twitter – @UrbanAreaAlicia.

1st Nationwide EAS Test: Pass or Fail?

Our Tweet asking our followers to share their experience.

Last week’s first ever nationwide simultaneous test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) was a major milestone for alert, notification and warning. A nationwide anything is a huge undertaking.  Congrats to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for making it happen. 

We asked our social media fans and followers what they experienced and many shared their thoughts.  There was some inconsistencies in how long the test lasted and some stations did not run the test at all. So, now we know. That’s the point of the test, as FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate succinctly said, “If we don’t test it, we don’t know what we need to fix.” 

FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said “The nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System test was administered and the FCC and FEMA are currently collecting data about the results. This initial test was the first time we have tested the reach and scope of this technology and what additional improvements that should be made to the system as we move forward. Only through comprehensively testing, analyzing, and improving these technologies can we ensure an effective and reliable national emergency alert and warning system.”

We at DEM were primarily focused on getting the word out about the test.  Because of some technical challenges we knew there could be some who would not understand the “this is a test” message due to hearing disabilities or limited English proficiency.

One of numerous Tweets about the EAS Test.

That the test did not run on every station is something we will leave to the technical experts; however, communicating to our audiences what to expect was the real test for us.  And of particular note, thanks to social media we live in an era where we could ask our audience what they experienced, and actually heard back! For this reason at a minimum, we think the nationwide EAS test was worth the effort and enthusiastically give it a passing grade. 


What we heard from some of our Twitter followers.