Blog Archives

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.

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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.

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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).

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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

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What to Expect… When You Call 9-1-1

911 Dispatcher answering a call

Dispatchers are trained to pull and assess information from a caller so the right level of help can be sent quickly.

Calling 9-1-1 is serious business.  We want you to call 9-1-1 to receive help for emergencies, potential emergencies, or if you are not sure if it’s an emergency.  But happens when you call for help?  What should you say? What does the person on the other line need to know?  What if you forget something?

Dispatchers are trained to pull and assess information from a caller. Expect them to guide you with questions.  They know what information they need to get first in order to ensure the right type of help arrives in a timely manner, and the best way to get the assistance you need is to answer the questions in the order they ask them.

Here’s a quick guide to help us help you:

  • If you speak another language or dialect tell us right away. At push of a button, we can connect to a translator. San Francisco has translated 9-1-1 calls in more than 170 languages.
  • Let the dispatcher know what is happening. Is there a crime in progress? Is there a fire?  Does someone need medical help? This information lets our dispatchers know what type of help you need.
  • We want to know where the situation is occurring. Provide an exact address if you know it and don’t forget the floor and apartment number if you are in a building.  Unsure of where you are?  A nearby intersection or landmark will help.
  • When did the incident occur? It is important to know if this is an active situation so our dispatchers can prepare the first responders know what to expect.
  • Let us know who is involved. We want to know if it a family member, someone you know, or a stranger.  It also helps to know if there are multiple people involved and who they are.
  • If weapon was used then let us know. Telling a dispatcher about weapons helps keep the public and first responders safe.
  • Tell us if anyone is injured. If someone is hurt, our dispatchers will ask you a series of questions to determine what type of care is needed.  Our dispatchers are also trained to provide medical instruction until a medic arrives.

It is important to remember the type of response is based on the emergency.  San Francisco’s 9-1-1 call center receives more than 3,000 calls per day.  Not every call can or should involve emergency units traveling at high speeds with lights flashing and sirens blaring.  This type of response comes with inherent risk for the public and the first responders, but is rightly reserved for life-threatening emergencies.

We hope you rarely have to call 9-1-1.  But if you you or someone else is experiencing an emergency, then keep these tips in mind.  Our 9-1-1 dispatchers will help you get the help that you need in a timely manner.

911 Dispatchers answering phones

Call 9-1-1 to receive help for emergencies, potential emergencies, or if you are not sure if it’s an emergency.

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Need some help figuring out when to call 9-1-1 check out our previous post Burning Building? Call 911. Burning Question? Call 311.  

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 http://sfdem.org/index.aspx?page=55

AlertSF

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: www.alertsf.org

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: http://www.fcc.gov/guides/wireless-emergency-alerts-wea

SF72

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 www.SF72.org

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.