The E.O.C., Emergency Operations Center, that we all report to in the event of an emergency is, in reality, the Central Fire Dispatch Center for the Fire Department. In fact, in the early 1960s, it was still being used as the base of operations for the Department of Electricity to oversee the operations of the old traffic signal system.
The first responders have a number of chores before they can start work. These chores include picking up a weightlifting set (including weights) and moving a bunch of beds (the firefighters stationed here sleep here when not on duty). Likewise, upstairs phones have to be connected and unnecessary equipment must be removed before work can begin.
By the time I arrived at the E.O.C., Health Department representatives had already started working. I got there about 5:25 p.m. Actually, the first person I ran into was Mike Farrell, Deputy Fire Chief. I sent Gerry Costanzo downstairs to open up the DPW desk (and as I found out later to move beds and weights). I had direct phone communication with Gerry downstairs, but nowhere else.
There was a good exchange of information between the people in the Conunand Center, but I could not help but think later on that we were somewhat fortunate that there was not a heavier demand on our resources. We used our DPW radio net to communicate with our Operations Center at Army Street.
At various times during the evening, one or another of our communications devices would break down. It always seemed to happen at a critical time, but everyone took the situation in stride. There was no general maintenance of a situation board - and this was sorely missed. A lot of things happened because we kept reminding one another of needed facts or actions.
After the initial rush to catch up on events, we settled into a routine of inquiry and response. We tried to get helicopter support for damage assessment but were not very successful. The first chopper to respond was a news service. I sent one of the Deputy Fire Chiefs up (it was a single-passenger unit) so that he could get a better handle on conditions at the Marina fire. Up to this time, there was no T.V. or other news available in the E.O.C. so we were really in the dark as to what conditions were around the Bay. Little did we know that national T.V. was sending the same picture over and over that seemed to show that San Francisco was going up in flames.
At about this time, we were starting to get some very bad news from people in the field - there is a severe gas leak in the Mission and PG&E cannot control it - we've lost water pressure in the Marina and the fire is out of control - the Bay Bridge was down - were among the most noteworthy. It seemed as if all hell had broken loose, yet there was no panic. Indeed, there was no panic throughout the whole response time.
Sometime after 7:00 p.m., Mayor Agnos reported to the E.O.C. (he had been out in the City working with people.) He requested a status report of each Department and a plan of action. After considerable discussion, he approved our plans, make a Declaration of Emergency and to request support from both the State and Federal Governments. Supervisor assisted with a Spanish translation. Supervisor Jim Gonzalez assisted with a Spanish translation.
By this time, a helicopter arrived furnished by the FBI. We took off in the dark and started for the Marina fire. I could not believe how dark the city was. Except for the fires, there were a few, there were no lights anywhere. That is, except from vehicles at fire or rescue scenes. By this time, most private vehicles were off the streets. Frankly, the full impact of the earthquake was lost because of the darkness. Except for the size of the fire in the Marina, the most startling thing was the view of a collapsed portion of the Bay Bridge. We really have to rethink the damage assessment response plan and we have to be better able to get helicopters to respond to our needs. I do not think that anyone fully appreciated the value of the chopper ride and the potential that was lost because there were not any available for use.
By this time of the evening, the E.O.C. was beginning to wear rather poorly on everyone's nerves. We had lost power so the emergency generator came on. Wow, what a noise. The only relief was to keep the door shut and there went the fresh air. There were no outside lights, so the Press Corps was really in the dark. Fortunately, the weather was pleasant so they did not complain too much. We finally brought in some construction lights so they had light outside the Center.
Gradually, as the evening passed, more politicians arrived at the center, as well as other Department personnel. it began to get real crowded, stuffy, and most difficult to communicate easily. The one redeeming feature was that we were able to handle requests as they came in, we were not under a constant deluge of demands for service. Also, at about this time, things seemed to start to blend together and people seemed to settle into a comfortable response mode.
One of the requests was for pumps to pump out the basement of the Veterans Building because it was flooding and there were art works that needed to be saved. Other pumping requests came from Bart because of water getting into the underground tube. One other location was the Stock Market Building basement, flooding was threatening their computers.
Much of the work involved responding to requests from other Departments. Health wanted hospitals, mass care facilities, and clinics checked for structural conditions. They also requested that we transport fuel oil for the convalescent hospitals as they were running out. The Fire Department needed fuel for their pumpers which we supplied from 55 gallon drums on the line. The Hall of Justice had water supply problems, as did the Marina Middle School. Both problems were solved differently. At the Hall of Justice, we pumped from a source. At the school, we carried bottled water. We responded to a call from the Moscone Convention Center for bedding. There had been a Water Pollution Federation Conference there earlier in the day. As the exhibitors moved out, people impacted by the earthquake moved in. Supervisor Nancy Walker and others reported there to provide whatever they might to help ease the problems that so many were facing.
These were just some of the many memories I have of the first few hours in the E.O.C. Food came in, some to be eaten and some to stay on the shelf for days. Although, on the first day it did not seem to bother anyone.
In the wee hours of the morning, we started getting some replacements so that we could get some rest. I think that some of the newcomers were shocked at the matter-of-factness they found. Everything seemed to be under control, and it was.
The E.O.C. served a very utilitarian purpose for the first response. But as time progressed, people were trying to find ways to return to their offices to work. The lure of familiar surroundings, and the outright discomfort of the E.O.C. were a very dynamic duo.
the next few days, there were less Departmental representatives at the
Center. my assistant, Mrs. Cooney, tried to operate our Control Center
in the basement. Much to her dismay the phones on the first and basement
floors rang in the basement. Whoever answered had to run upstairs (by now,
Without looking at my notes, I cannot remember what day we left the E.O.C. However, it could not have happened soon enough. The phones continued to malfunction and the need for good accurate information grew on a logarithmic scale. One good feature was a bleacher area in the playground next door that afforded good space for Departmental briefings with the Mayor. This would be helpful for large Departments to brief their managers also.
I think we can all be thankful that the weather was warm and that there was no rain for the first few days after the earthquake, otherwise, conditions at the E.O.C. would have been unbearable.
there was under enough stress as it was. I think that the need for a much
improved E.O.C. has been justified and I am pleased to note that a redesign
of one that was proposed under the Bond issue is beginning. In the meantime,
a lot of work must be done, both to make the existing facility usable and
to better identify the roles of people in the Center.