After the earthquake of October 17th, We were able to quickly begin the evaluation of private and public buildings. Our planning for the earthquake had preset our priorities. The first buildings that we looked at were those that were needed to provide the services to deal with what had happened. This included hospitals, mass care facilities, fire and police stations, and the like. Private buildings were way down the list as far as priorities were concerned.Naturally, we were drawn to those buildings where there was damage, and we did make some very quick evaluations as to whether or not a building was safe to enter. Because our resources were stretched, we utilized the services of volunteer engineers. Over the first week after the earthquake, over 500 engineers offered their services in this process.
While there was some confusion, I think that, for the most part, the process went very smoothly. In this regard, we had a lot of luck. Just three weeks before the earthquake, our building inspectors had attended a seminar where they first learned about the red, yellow, and green forms. As a matter of fact, very late on the night of the 17th, they went back into 450 McAllister Street (in the dark) and found the forms and the description of the process, took this information to our temporary base of operations, and began using this new and very valuable program.
The Marina District offered the most concentrated area of building damage and, incidentally, a very good training ground for getting used to these new forms. From the Marina, engineers were dispatched to all other parts of the City to evaluate building conditions. The system that was used to determine where to respond to first included the following: visible damage, reports of internal damage, complaints, and, finally, a systematic review of all unreinforced masonry buildings. However, there was no way that we would ever be able to inspect all buildings in San Francisco.
I used the media to urge private building owners to get their own engineers to make their own independent surveys to see if their buildings would be safe to enter. This was the only way that I felt that all buildings could ultimately be inspected. The only thing missing was the forms that would provide some common ground for all inspections, including those done by the City Inspectors and the volunteers and those done by building owners on their own. The lack of forms caused some confusion because some buildings would be posted and some not. It is just possible that the lack of a tag caused the most concern to employees that wanted to return to work.
News! We now have forms that can be distributed to building owners that
can be used by their engineers to make their own evaluations as to the
conditions that exist. This will allow for a more rapid evaluation of all
buildings, provide a common base for these evaluations and, hopefully,
will result in an early posting of all buildings thereby getting the word
out to people as to a building's condition. Follow-
will probably be most effective in the larger buildings. We will still
have problems with smaller buildings, especially those that do not have
During the aftermath of the 17th, there was some confusion that resulted in some buildings being posted first in one condition and later in a different condition. There are a number of reasons why this happened. First, a posting was made in error. Next, a posting was changed because of a dangerous building next door. Next, the condition of a building changed because of settling or the discovery of more extensive damage. After all, we could not get into all buildings immediately after the earthquake. Many of the initial inspections were made from the sidewalks or from adjacent buildings. I am sure that there are buildings out there that have damage and have not been inspected. As we see them or as they are reported, we are making inspections and continuing our post earthquake activities.
is one thing that we have to do, and that is to get all building owners
to accept responsibility for their buildings, especially in regard to post-
There is one area of concern and that is elevator inspection and evacuation. I know of one company that flew their employees into the City after dark, serviced those elevators for which they had responsibility, and then flew back to the east bay. And I am sure that the Fire Chief will be able to tell of the many calls that the Fire Department had. They were able to get the elevator service companies to respond. However, if the earthquake had been more severe, I am doubtful if this system would have been as successful. Again, the smaller buildings would have, in my opinion, provided most of the problems. This is one area that I would like to work on in the future. I hate to think of some person having to spend several days on floor three and a half just because no one knows that they are there!
And now an admonition, don't forget the utilities. Both the phone and gas and electric companies need access to restore their services. First of all, we all need them and, more importantly, they need a safe work place. You need to be sure that they have a safe place to work and, at the same time, you need to think about what changes may be necessary at your work place, either in service provided or access points.
I want to share with you our own earthquake plan as far as what is expected
of our employees. First of all, there is a good chance that it will occur
while they are away from work. Ours are instructed to make sure their families
are provided for and then are expected to report to work. The places to
report to have been previously determined. If it occurs while they are
at work, they are allowed to go home (if they can get there), provide for
their families, and are then expected to return to work. On the 17th, over
300 returned in the first hour and over 800 by early the next morning.
An employee that is overly concerned about his or her family is darn near
worthless. The investment in dealing with this concern pays big dividends
in the long run. of course, pre-