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San Francisco Departmental Debriefing
Following the October 17, 1989 Earthquake
Held November 1, 1989

DEPUTY MAYOR FOR PUBLIC SAFETY GAYLE ORR SMITH called the meeting in order to hear firsthand from key city department heads what problems they encountered while working at the Emergency Command Center (ECC) at 1003 Turk Street. Purpose of the debriefing session was to collect information and receive recommendations on how ECC might be improved to make it function more efficiently.

Deputy Orr Smith conveyed Mayor Art Agnos' satisfaction with the overall performance of the city, its citizens and its employees and his gratitude for the fact that people pulled together and extended themselves to full capacity in order to handle disaster situations.

She explained that input from the debriefing would be used in drawing up design specification for the new ECC, which is scheduled to be built, and for modifying the existing ECC in the interim. The goal is to provide facilities that support a management format, she told the group, adding that the Mayor's agenda includes more thorough exercises to ensure efficient emergency response in any future emergencies that may occur.

Deputy Mayor Orr Smith noted that the ECC closed down earlier than it probably should have because space limitations, poor ventilation, inadequate supplies and other facility shortcomings made it very difficult to conduct business from the site.

She said the city is considering bringing personnel from the State Office of Emergency Services or the California Specialized Training Institute in San Luis Obispo to critique the city's earthquake response performance.

TOM JENKIN, Director of the local Office of Emergency Services (OES), reported that activation of the ECC proceeded according to plan and that personnel arrived on the scene quickly.

He described his role as that of advisor to the Mayor, saying he spent the early hours working with the City Attorney on technical procedures for declaring a state of emergency and putting in motion a disaster application center request.

He said that when he assumed his position on the lower level of the ECC to act "in a coordinating role" the volume of calls coming in on the two or three lines at the Office of Emergency station resulted in his functioning "almost as an answering and referral service." Assistance was needed in answering the phones, he observed.

Jenkin noted that the Pacific Bell system remained up during the disaster and that the Police Department provided switchboard staffing for the Mayor's Emergency Telephone System so that worked, too. He said access between departments was done one-on-one and was good as long as key department staff remained at the ECC site.

By Thursday, when staff left the ECC, Jenkin said he could not get information about what was going on and did not have information he needed to comply with state and regional Office of Emergency Services protocols. "There was a failure of exchange of information by departments" during the post-emergency stage, he stressed.

Jenkin outlined some difficulties he had coordinating delivery of water to the Marina Middle School shelter, but said activation of the shelter by the Red Cross and securing of cots and blankets through the Purchaser occurred in a timely fashion.

The OES director said he will develop a separate sheet with precise assignments spelled out for staff who report to the ECC, and include that in the master disaster plan.

He said past training exercises have not included the role of support staff whose work starts in the period after the immediate response. That will have to be worked out, he concluded.

DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF MIKE FARRELL, one of the first to arrive at the ECC in response to the earthquake, pointed out that the medical team set up operations in the conference room early. As a result, other department heads ended up communicating in the hall. A lot of things got done, but it did not work quite smoothly.

Chief Farrell agreed that the ECC closed too soon. "In the days immediately following the quake when we needed help from public works or water, we would call the ECC only to find nobody there and we would have to go searching somewhere else for a contact," he said.

POLICE CHIEF FRANK JORDAN emphasized the need for better security at the ECC in order to screen access to operations areas and to keep the number of people at the ECC down to a reasonable level. He said the ECC was very full and the crowding made it difficult to handle dispatch functions. He noted that many elected officials showed up at the site, and suggested that some sort of a briefing room be set up for political figures. Officials not directly involved in emergency operations should be brought in to a secretary who could direct them to an designated area separate from the command center where all the action is taking place. "Then we could go in and brief them so they don't get themselves right involved with the whole process," Chief Jordan said.

The chief also pointed to the difficulty of "running the gauntlet" of reporters and cameras massed in front of the ECC. He suggested the press would be less aggressive if they were given a separate staging area where they could get the information they need.

The Police Chief said there were major problems in receiving telephone calls at the ECC. The phones were operational, but one had to go from room to room upstairs and downstairs in order to get calls. There did not seem to be any way to transfer calls from phone to phone within the building, he said, adding that one possibility to solve that problem might be to issue cellular phones to key personnel.

DICK EVANS, Director, Department of Public Works (DPW), said experience on the night of October 17th makes it very evident that the proposed design for the new command center has to be redone. One of the things that must be addressed is the issue of ventilation, lack of which made the working environment very uncomfortable at the ECC. The redesign process is under way.

Evans said the ECC phones did not work well. "The red phones did not work well and neither did PT&T's phone system. We were getting phone calls upstairs and downstairs, and there was no way to transfer them," he said. The individual Police, DPW, Fire and C- Med radio systems worked, and because the four of us were able to work back and forth in the hall, we were able to communicate, Evans noted.

Evans commented on the painfully high noise levels in the ECC basement, but recommended against installing partitions, which would stifle interdepartmental communication. "If you put up partitions down there, the way that room is presently configured, it's going to fail," Evans predicted. He said departments need to be able to talk back and forth directly and immediately. 'We need that communication, and we can't wait for it," he said.

The DPW director said using a helicopter to survey damage was "a nice idea that did not work" when the power was down. Those who surveyed the scene by helicopter could not see which streets were open or closed or much of anything else, he noted. "The helicopters need to have a spotlight or something" Evans said. He also questioned whether, given the winds and the vibrations, it was wise to take helicopters so low over a disaster scene. "Some of those buildings in the Marina were vibrating pretty good, even though the helicopters were at 1,000 feet, and I'm not sure we should go down that low,' he said. "I think we have to examine the whole aspect of helicopter fly-overs for the damage assessment."

Evans said an outside light is needed at the ECC. "I had a light stand brought in, otherwise the press would have been in the dark, number one. Number two, we were awfully lucky it wasn't raining. If it had been raining, we would have had an awful problem outside that facility. We need, until we get a new center, some type of a temporary shelter, awning, or whatever it might be, for the exterior, so the press can work out there. We also need better toilet facilities," Evans continued.

"The ECC facility worked for the size of event we had. If we had had a bigger event, with more people there, the facility would have failed because there was not good communication," Evans said. Mingling with the crowd in the hall was the only way People could really talk together, he added.

Evans emphasized the need for a good situation board. He noted that the Fire Department has a great situation board and that each department had its own board, but there was no way for anyone to see what the overall situation really was. He said a situation board would need to show each event, such as: Event 1 -- water main break, location, reported by, reported to, what action is being taken, response completed; Event 2 -- firehouse collapse, etc. He said the basement operations room functioned because "everyone in there had a good memory and a good response and a good attitude for responsibility." He said it takes a dedicated person from one or more organizations to keep track of events and put them up on a scoreboard that everyone can see. Evans mentioned that the situation board had been used in disaster exercises, but even though the Fire Department and others made an effort to put something up, the situation board concept did not work during the height of the emergency.

Evans said somehow up-to-date phone directories must be maintained at the ECC at all times, including a city phone directory and Pacific Bell directory. "As far as I'm concerned, what's in those (ECC storage) cupboards is what makes a department able to function," he said.

Evans agreed that security to control traffic into the ECC had to be tightened.

The DPW has two radio channels. It needs two more, according to Evans. "When I get two channels in use I can't get anything else done," he said. "Communications were frustrating ... There were times when I felt we weren't doing so good, and it was because we couldn't communicate."

ART JENSEN, Director, Water Department, reported that his department's internal procedures worked well, and that personnel reported to the ECC as scheduled even though he, himself, was in the East Bay when the quake struck. "I was able to set up a command post in my kitchen at home," Jensen said. "People had trouble reaching me by phone, but from Walnut Creek I was able to reach everybody, including Dick Evans and the ECC, within an hour ... If the phones had not come through at my end as well as they had, my communication would have been cut off."

Jensen said staff from his department were on hand performing their roles when he arrived at the ECC at 3 a.m. the morning after the quake, but that the noise in the basement made working very difficult. He suggested that the possibility of installing soundproofing be explored.

"When we went from response to recovery activities, communications began to break down for a number of reasons," Jensen said. "People left; there's no closing procedure for the ECC," he continued. "We posted key phone numbers where to refer calls for information, but that did not work." At the request of Tom Jenkin of OES, the Water Department sent some people down to ECC to take questions, but Jensen said the day he was there he ended up receiving calls from private citizens. "How calls from private citizens got to the ECC, I'm not sure. Those calls should have been referred back to the relevant departments once the ECC is closing down."

Jensen said the story board is a good idea, and that he was not aware that Fire and Health were noting departmental events upstairs. "At one of our exercises in the Red Cross Center, City Planning had a primary role in compiling information, but how the information gathering role is to be executed and coordinated I don't know. I didn't see it happening at the ECC at all." Jensen also noted that by Thursday there was no one at the ECC in charge of media contact. "I was not clear as to what extent I should be discussing issues directly with the media, and there was no one on point to relay information."

Jensen said the cellular phones were "great" inasmuch as they allowed department staff to communicate while they were moving around. The minus factor was that a whole batch of phone numbers had to be distributed, and those numbers changed regularly. A better system of keeping track of cellular numbers is needed, Jenkin said.

EILEEN CAHILL MALONEY, Press Secretary to the Mayor, echoed those who spoke of problems with the ECC phone system. "Even with the basic phone system up, which might not be the case in a bigger disaster, people in the command center had no way of communicating among themselves except by running back and forth. Media queries came in on phones all over the building and could not be transferred to any single point. Radios and phone lines that did exist were all geared toward rescue or fire calls -- the top priority items. But the fact remains that you need some way of communicating other information. You also need more than one person on site with the express assignment of handling media."

Maloney said the major problem she encountered at the ECC was the difficulty of getting accurate information to feed to the horde of press people assembled out front. The Fire Department was maintaining an information board and so was health, but there was no place to get an overall picture of what was happening on various fronts. Early road and highway information coming into ECC proved to be incorrect. People were picking up their information from the single, non-cable TV set in the so-called conference room. No protocols for non-emergency information flow existed.

Maloney said the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) did not work as it was supposed to. Messages from the Mayor, which were translated into various languages, apparently did not get out on the airwaves. This was not discovered until a couple of days after the fact, and Maloney said she is trying to track down how to correct this problem in the future.

After the main event, when staff moved out of the ECC, Maloney said getting information from key people in the field became difficult.

RUDY WASSERSLEBEN, Department of Electricity, observed that we were lucky that the radio tower and telecommunications system stayed up, but even so the best way to handle communications during the first eight to ten hours was radio. He said it is not going to be possible to get through the public switched network after an emergency because they overload almost immediately. The cellular phone also goes through a switch socket and overloads.

Wassersleben said all of the city's phone systems stayed up during the quake. The generator at the Hall of Justice police command center got hot and there were some problems there, and a post-quake survey of city facilities showed at five entities had emergency generator problems.

Because Civic Center buildings were damaged, workers could not use their offices. At that time the cellular phones became paramount, Wassersleben said. The private sector donated 800 cellular phones to the City and provided free air time. The first vital point where the cellular phones were used was in the ECC. "They were put there just for a direct line from the basement to the main floor because we couldn't talk from downstairs to upstairs," he said. The cellular phones were used down in the Marina, both at the Marina Middle School and for building inspectors and other staffers who were moving from place to place. "We were passing out about 150 phones a day," Wassersleben said.

The Department of Electricity ultimately brought an old van to the Marina so there would be a place to charge the phones. Some system has to be developed so that phone numbers for the cellular equipment can be distributed, he Pointed out. He said beepers were the most effective tool for reaching people who were on the move.

The Department of Electricity report concluded that radio is going to be the primary mode of communication during the first hours. Street fire boxes will be used to summon firefighters. Cellular phones will come into play in the second phase when staff cannot function by a hard wire phone. The generator at the radio tower has been in place since 1956, and may need to be replaced since parts are no longer available for it. The three separate phone systems at the ECC, itself, will have to be looked at and problems corrected.

DR. THOMAS PETERS, Associate Director. Department of Public Health, concurred that basic medical and ambulance communications should be conducted at a separate command center outside the ECC. There is generator power at three sites: The Health Department building at Civic Center, San Francisco General Hospital and Laguna Honda Hospital. Health is working in cooperation with the Fire Department on a proposal that would activate district centers in the case of a disaster so that private medical staff could volunteer to work, Peters said.

He pointed out that Health used its bilingual staff to assist in translating public service announcements. He stressed the need for including bilingual capacity in any public information system.

JOHN ULRICH, Manager, San Francisco Division, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, said the quake tripped off the two major power points to San Francisco, which is what is supposed to happen. Power was brought back up slowly because lines were checked for gas leaks before power was restored. PG&E brought in people from other areas to help with the gas checks. Ulrich worked in cooperation with city personnel to determine which areas had first priority for power restoration. However, he advised that in any major disaster the city should be prepared to function without full power for 72 hours.

He noted that many people turned off their gas when they did not have to do so, which delayed resumption gas service to their buildings. He also stressed the need to use flashlights and not candles when power goes off in a quake.

Ulrich reiterated complaints others had made about the ECC phones. He said he managed to function when he happened upon the line reserved for Pacific Bell, who had no one on site at the time. "There was somebody on the other end of that line, and I was able to dial all the numbers I needed. There are three major telephone switch centers in San Francisco. Pac-Bell had a major problem with a generator that would not work, and we focused our attention there to try and keep power on, so they would not lose all their telephones in the city.

PG&E learned a good deal about the location of city sewer facilities, Muni substations, etc. during the earthquake response. He said that by knowing more about these factors PG&E could do some preplanning so that workers could be assigned to get power to those key points even without communications. owe don't wait for calls; we distribute our people all over the city immediately after a disaster and we open up our own emergency center," Ulrich said. He noted that the ECC is a difficult location to which to restore power. He also noted that it would be easier to keep track of the staffers at the ECC if each wore an identification badge.

Ulrich praised the U.S. Navy for the help it gave PG&E in re-lighting one of its power plants by sending a ship over to Pier 70 to provide steam. He recommended that the Navy be made an integral part of disaster planning.

Ulrich pointed out that PG&E set up a mobile unit in Portsmouth Square, and suggested that this facility could have been shared with city staff. Multi-lingual communication is important, he stressed, adding that there was not enough communication with people who do not speak English. The city also needs to make some provisions to give the press the support they need because they are an important resource in getting information out, he noted.

MAJOR BILL GROWNEY, National Guard, said Guard forces were on alert within four hours of the quake, but the local liaison officer was not included in the response plan until Thursday, at which point it was rather late. He said he can operate in the field, outside the ECC, with his own radio and generator, and suggested that National Guard resources be written into local, regional and state Office of Emergency plans.

He said most of the Guard assets were sent to Santa Cruz, but that the Guard did deliver $8,000 worth of fuel for local operations. He noted that the Guard is loathe to step into Police duties, believing those functions are better handled by civilian officers.

DEPUTY POLICE CHIEF FRANK REED, who was stationed at the Hall of Justice Police command center during the disaster, said almost every emergency service and support service will have to operate with a separate command post. Interchange of information with the other departments and the ECC would have to be done by radio, the direct city line and cellular phones, he Said. A hot line would be a very helpful item, Reed said.

He said plans are needed to address security problems that crop up at emergency shelters. There were not enough police officers available to meet Red Cross requests for security, he said, adding that perhaps security staff other than sworn officers might be used in such situations.

MARVIN GEISTLINGER, Purchaser, said his operations might have run less smoothly if staff had already gone home before quake struck, but that things worked well and all contractors complied with purchasing requests. He said fuel for generators and other equipment became the most sought after commodity very quickly. Batteries and flashlights were also much in demand. Geistlinger pointed out that back-up contacts were needed to get supplies. He said the city needs to do more warehousing and expand storage capacity at the ECC, itself.
PETER ASHEN, American Red Cross, complained that support agencies that do not normally work 24-hour shifts returned to usual business hours after the quake. He said all agencies must operate on an around-the-clock schedule throughout the course of emergency operations.

Ashen expressed the hope that the October 17th experience would bring home the need for departmental participation in annual preparedness exercises. He noted that written policies do not substitute for exercises, and pointed out that the persons who took part in the last exercise at the ECC in 1988 were not the top members of the departments.

Ashen explained that the Red Cross had brought in an administrative team headed by Dan Wagner from Dallas, Texas and that they were working with Julia Lopez of the Department of Social Services to work out problems in connection with the shelters. He said agreements on use of city facilities should be reviewed.

CLAIR GIMBLIN, Telecommunications division, Department of Electricity, said he has attended disaster exercises for more than six years, which have been held at a variety of different locations. "Exercises that are set up in different rooms and have people sitting at tables trying to simulate telephone calls are not necessarily useless, but they are not that good either,Ó Gimblin said. ÒI think the exercises must take place in the ECC. I think what you should do is have training programs throughout the year at the ECC for department heads, deputies and down the line so that at least five people in each department are familiar with handling key roles in the ECC."
DEPUTY MAYOR ORR SMITH closed the meeting, saying the comments would be used to modify the design for the new ECC and that departments and agencies involved in disaster response would be consulted in ECC planning.

She said the need for exercising at the existing ECC is "crucial." She said that what was happening at the ECC during the disaster was different from standard practices employed in disaster training. She said the OES is going to have to look more closely at how the ECC can accommodate separate rooms for policy makers and implementation staff so that policy decisions can be coordinated in an orderly fashion.

She noted that how the Mayor has organized his staff has to be factored into emergency planning. "There is a lot of internal planning that I know we are all going to be doing in our respective departments that will help us to coordinate better and to facilitate our communication," she concluded.

The following persons attended the debriefing session:

Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Gayle Orr Smith
City Attorney Louise Renne
Police Chief Frank Jordan
Deputy Police Chief Frank Reed
Fire Chief Fred Postel
Deputy Fire Chief Mike Farrell
Tom Jenkin, Director, Office of Emergency Services
Carl Koon, planner, Office of Emergency Services
Dick Evans, Director, Department of Public Works
Gerry Costanzo, Deputy Director, Department of Public Works
Rudy Wassersleben, Department of Electricity
Clair Gimblin, Department of Electricity
Marvin Geistlinger, City Purchaser
Major Bill Growney, National Guard
Art Jensen, Director, Water.Department
Dr. Tom Peters, Associate Director, Department of Public Health
Peggy Trezevant, Emergency Medical Services
John Ulrich, Manager, San Francisco Division, Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
Dede Hapner, Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
Eileen Cahill Maloney, Mayors' Public Information Officer
Peter Goldstein, Mayor's Budget Office
Kate Harrison, Mayor's Budget Office
Jim Buick, Mayor's Office of Public Safety
Diane Guzman, Mayor's Office of Public Safety
Art Curtis, San Francisco Municipal Railway
Peter Ashen, American Red Cross
Mary Louise Green, American Red Cross

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