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October 17, 1989, 5:04 p.m., San Francisco shook for 15 seconds at a Richter Scale reading of 7.1. After the fires were put out, after the hoses were put away, and after the dust had settled, the people of the City started down the road to recovery.

There was tragic loss of life, property damage, people were hurt, and some lost everything that they considered dear to them. In the midst of all this, I could not help but think of some of the things that had happened that either prevented more damage or helped us deal with what happened in a most effective manner.

Let's go back a number of years to where the parapet ordinance was first enacted. many complained and a few acted to take corrective measures initially. We started enforcement in the late 70's in the Chinatown, North Beach, and Tenderloin areas. This was followed by enforcement action in the Bush Street corridor and then South of Market. Not many did it willingly, but most did what was necessary. Only two or three parapets fell (with severe results) whereas a few years ago the number down would have been many times more.

In more recent history, only about thirty days before the earthquake, my building inspectors attended a conference at which they obtained the red, yellow, and green forms that came in so handy as we picked our way through the rubble. Very late on the night of the 17th, they reentered their offices at 450 McAllister Street in the dark and got the forms that would prove so useful in the days to come.

After I was appointed Director, I started holding a series of tailgate meetings with the employees of the Department, during which I explained to them their responsibilities in the event of an earthquake. I think that the response that they demonstrated proved the value of this effort. Not long after the ground stopped shaking, many were back to work assisting in rubble clearance, search and rescue efforts, dalmage assessment, repair and recovery work.

On the day of the earthquake, I attended a luncheon sponsored by the International Water Pollution Federation, at which I was presented a manhole cover in recognition for hosting their annual conference. The luncheon's speaker chose a very interesting theme, Crisis Management! For some reason, I took copious notes, little realizing how soon they would prove invaluable.

Looking back, I did not really use them except in a subconscious way. Also, looking back, it is amazing how prophetic he was. Everything he said came true, in the same order, at about the same time, and with the same intensity.

Every year, the City management staff has a practice drill in April. For the last three years, I have directed my Chief Finance Officer to operate the radio for me at the Emergency Operations Center (the E.O.C.) as a way of using him. If I keep him busy, he does not get into trouble. After the shaking stopped on the 17th, and I had gotten my staff out of city Hall, I looked around and, you guessed it, he was standing about three feet away. So I grabbed him and off we went to the E.O.C. He was all trained with the equipment and ready to go.

Now, let's look at the time ... 5:04 p.m ... over two hours of light left. Think what might have happened if it had been dark!

This is probably the first time that a World Series or any other event, might have saved some lives. Many people were already at home or some other place getting ready to watch the garne, which had such a peculiar starting time. Furthermore, many thousands were at Candlestick Park, on which we had just finished a seismic rehab not long before. The stadium shook, but stood, and, inost importantly, there was no panic.

Now let's look at the weather. Early in the day there was some wind, but it died as the fire in the Marina grew. This was most evident when we watched the smoke go straight up rather than drift over the City as it had done earlier in the evening. The rain that was predicted for Thursday held off until the weekend when we had the streets in better shape and after some of the buildings had been shored.

The people! Most had made a special effort to get along and many had volunteered to help. Earlier I told you about my Finance Officer. Well, on the other end of that radio was a lady that normally operates my Central Control. She had returned to work as instructed, the only difference was that she had her two year old baby on her lap. She and her baby stayed at the radio for over ten hours in a true show of strength.

One bad thing about keeping fire trucks actively working at the fire scene is that they get low on fuel. Two of my people operated a traveling refill operation throughout the night to keep the fire vehicles fueled and operating. It was not the safest operation in the world, but it worked. These are but two of the many unselfish acts that went unsung, but not without appreciation. And, yes, before you ask, I have given Departmeiital recognition to the many that deserve it.

The final miracle is most unusual. Those of you that pay a sewer service charge in San Francisco got a terrific deal on October 17th. For the past several years, we have been building a series of retention lines around the City. These are designed to catch and hold the storm runoff so it can be treated rather than run into the Bay. It is just possible that they kept tlie City from running into the Bay. Horizontal ground movement outside the sewer box, near the St. Francis Yacht Club, measured over twelve inches (in less than a tenth of a second), while inboard of the box, the movement was somewhat contained. Many other engineers share the same thoughts that just maybe the big box that was built for one function served another very valuable purpose.

There has been another post-earthquake miracle, and that is the miracle of the maps. I directed my Assistant to manage the restoration of services in the Marina District. She utilized a new system called MUMS to map out the work. MUMS, Municipal Utility Mapping System, allows us to plot by using coordinates, many different activities coded by color, shape, or whatever. This gives us a visual look at what is happening and the impact on other functions. The opportunities of this are limitless and we will be using the system to plan, track, and coordinate our work with other City agencies, utilities, and others who work in our streets and on our buildings.

I would imagine that if we thought about it, we could find other examples, but I think these are noteworthy.

Continue to "People, Places and Things" by Dick Evans.
Return to 1989 Earthquake Exhibit.