The result of the earthquake of October 17, 1989 was most evident in the Marina District in San Francisco. This was not to say that there was no other damage in the City. The most concentrated area of damage was located here and this gave us a chance to learn from first- hand experience how to operate a mass care facility and a multi-purpose staging area.
The Marina Middle School became a mass care facility because of its location in the district. Many people were homeless, all were without heat and lights, a major fire was raging in the middle of the district, and there was widespread damage. A number of homes and apartment houses had collapsed, some with occupants still inside, and other buildings were on the verge of collapse. There were a number of gas leaks, some water mains had ruptured, and a massive search and rescue effort was underway at one of the building collapse sites.
There were many volunteers on hand trying to help in the search efforts, as well as trying to help friends recover their belongings from some of the damaged buildings. Unfortunately, there were also a lot of onlookers and curiosity seekers that gave the scene a misguided festive appearance.
It was decided early on that the crowd would have to be moved out of the district altogether. This was necessary for their own safety, to possibly prevent fires, to keep the area clear for emergency crews, and to prevent looting. A perimeter was established with Police and military guards and people were not allowed in.
The Middle School soon became overrun with residents of the district. There was a large gymnasium and auditorium which soon became overcrowded. People were sleeping in the halls and in the cafeteria, water ran out, the toilets were unusable and, of course, there was no electricity. one of the reports received from the Medi-vacs [San Francisco Dept. of Public Health paramedics] on the scene was "send everything, we're bare bones". The first thing was to move in cots and blankets, then we took in water (bottled water, at that), flashlights, and some portable toilets. This made the area at least livable until morning. Ah, morning! Now we had to begin the task of trying to figure out how to assess the damage, sort out who belonged to what, and how to begin to make repairs and restore essential services.
The damage assessment was the most difficult, but because we had the process that had been developed for just such a purpose, the mechanics were easy. it was dealing with the people that was difficult. Not that they were tough to deal with, but many were faced with losing all that they owned and this was very difficult for them to accept. We established a processing center at the Middle School site, assigned people numbers, and then brought them into a processing area where each could be dealt with on an individuals basis. They were told the condition of their building, what the rules were for visiting their building, and general instructions as to how to exist for the time being. As I mentioned earlier, we even had a desk staffed by a person from Animal Control to deal with concerns about abandoned pets.
All of this was done outdoors and we were extremely lucky that there was no rain. Next time, provisions should be made for some sort of cover. Shade is also important, both for the workers and for the people being processed.
very favorable condition at the Middle School was the presence of a group
processing of the residents was completed in about ten days. Initially,
inspectors were assigned to residents and accompanied them into the area
and to their homes. People were allowed 15 minutes to enter their homes,
get their valuables and come out. The inspectors were very understanding
and helpful but it is hard to tell someone that time is up and they have
to leave. In the case of the homes that were red-
The repair and reconstruction crews were very anxious to begin work. Utility companies were making temporary fixes and wanted to get on with the permanent work. Next to the Middle School yard was a playground which they wanted to use as a "hardstand." This is a place to keep equipment and supplies. I said no. I felt that the playground would be better used by the school children as we had taken over their play yard for our staging area. Also, they and other people from the area needed a place where they could just go and sit on the grass. Furthermore, there was a paved area in the Presidio at the other end of the district that would serve better. It was more secure and it was paved. Also, it would not have to be repaired when the work was completed. The military were good neighbors and let us use the area, and I think we all came out ahead. Each of the utility companies shared in the site in the Presidio.
more pressing issue was the demand for immediate restoration. The utilities
made plans to work "round-
did make some special efforts to keep non-
also had to establish standards of performance for the people that were
working in the area, especially in the relief role. After the restoration
work had begun, people began to get lax in their behavior and work habits.
I had assigned my Assistant the chore of coordinating the recovery effort.
She requested that I have a meeting with all the people assigned to the
Middle School Multi-
In addition, we published a weekly newsletter that was distributed to residents and work crews that kept everyone informed of the latest schedules, progress, and possible changes. These newsletters were also posted on bulletin boards that we erected at the entrances to the area. This helped to keep the rumors to a minimum.
experience learned in the Marina emphasized the need for up-
Finally, we finished the major recovery work. It was time to go back to normal work places and regular work. Most people are reluctant to stop such a good operation. It is natural to want to continue to operate in a situation that is comfortable and lacks the routine of everyday life. However, the return to normal must happen and it must happen before everyone becomes too entrenched where they are. It is important that one recognizes the proper time to return to normal.
Marina was a good proving ground. We learned to communicate, use the Yellow
Pages¨ (great place to find almost anything that you might need in
an emergency), and work together. It would not hurt to practice setting
up a multi-purpose staging and processing area again, just to see what
is needed in the way of equipment (do not forget the copier), materials
and supplies and those other necessities of life that we all forget until
its too late.