On October 17, 1989, at 5:04 p.m., a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Northern California. A number of events combined to dictate results that were at once tragic and, yet, could have been, oh, so much worse. The whole area shook for over fifteen seconds, cars jumped off the pavement, windows shattered, merchandise flew off shelves in stores, buildings collapsed, a piece of the Bay Bridge fell in, and a long portion of the upper deck of the Cypress Freeway in Oakland collapsed onto the lower deck. Major parts of Watsonville were destroyed, as well as areas of Santa Cruz and other Cities. Thousands were left homeless, there were several major fires, and there was a tragic loss of life. All of this occurring while people across the country and around the world were getting ready to watch the third game of the first ever, BART World Series. The subway series of the West Coast.
part of the country is blessed with mild weather and, except for occasional
flooding, rarely experience much in the way of a serious area-
spite of all of this, the dust had barely begun to settle when emergency
response efforts began. Throughout the area, Fire, Police and Med-
None of this happened by accident and, hopefully, what we learned this time will help us do better next time. You remember that I mentioned in the beginning we were blessed with few large scale emergencies so all we have to work with are those occasional drills that are a real pain.
We can never devote enough effort to a practice situation to exercise everybody, so drills often become exercises in frustration. Therefore, we have to make the most of what we have, and that is communicating to our employees what it is that we want them to do when there is a serious problem which must be dealt with. They must know without any doubt when to respond, where to respond to, what to do, and how to do it.
all should have an organizational structure that is designed to deal with
the peculiarities of an emergency. This structure may differ somewhat from
and cooperation are most important because as the time of the emergency
wears on, everyone will experience a build-
Something else -- little things mean a lot. During the early hours of the recovery operation in the Marina, we established a desk manned by a person from the Animal Shelter to help people with their pets. Many were concerned because their pets were left in their homes. This was a very successful operation in coping with people that were concerned about their furry friends.
One element that makes the situation more difficult is the presence of volunteers. They come in a spirit of good citizenship and often leave dejected. This is because they are no:t used or axe left to sit around for a long time. They need to be communicated with also. They will also have to be trained, with minimum time, to do some of those things that we do without even thinking. But we need them! During the time immediately after the earthquake, we used over 500 volunteer engineers and architects in evaluating the damaged buildings in San Francisco. They first examined those buildings that would be needed to cope with the emergency, such as Fire and Police Stations, hospitals, and other care facilities and, then, finally, general public buildings, damaged buildings, and responses to requests. Because of the fact that the City has over 2,000 unreinforced masonry buildings, they were also checked for damage. In all, over 12,000 buildings were evaluated; some more than once. These volunteers changed sometimes daily, and while this presented some difficulty, they were most welcome.
Through all of this, you must be prepared to keep records of your actions. These records are necessary to help you recover financially any losses that you might sustain, and may serve to protect you in the event that you become involved in litigation some time after the dust has been swept away. Again, training in regard to processing people, purchases, and record keeping, will be the key to help you recover after the earthquake or other disaster has long since passed. I know that some of the lessons we learned as a result of the earthquake helped us through those vety trying hours following the collapse of the construction crane, which resulted in the deaths of five people. Everybody responded with more confidence and with a better understanding of what was expected of them. Then, when the building exploded on New Year's Eve, our employees reacted like trained veterans.
All of these events kept us in a crisis management mode for an extended period of time. There is a danger to this. As much fun as crisis management is, there is a danger to it. Normal lines of conununication are often overlooked. Rules are temporarily suspended, and expedient courses of action are taken to get things done. This is okay for a while, but at some point in time, you must return to normal. This is often painful because the other way is so much easier, but it has to be done. The important thing is to recognize it and then do it!
important things to remember include a planning effort that will develop
an organizational structure that will be responsive to demands that are
placed on it, a training effort that will let your employees know what
is expected of them and their families (yes, you need a family plan also)
and, finally, the communication effort that will prepare you and your employees
for the disaster, lead you through it, and provide the follow-
In an earlier chapter in the tale of the earthquake, I write of the miracle of the earthquake. Some of the miracles that are discussed include a report on employees returning to work, ready to work; radio operators, one with her baby on her lap; and a very good system for analyzing and posting building conditions. Those were not really miracles, but the result of planning, training, and communication, all good tools to have on hand in case of an emergency.
we have to be ready for the changing roles that develop as we move through
the emergency. Some agencies, such as Fire, Police, and Med-
the last three months of 1989, we were faced with a 7.1 magnitude earthquake
that did over $2 billion damage, destroyed many homes and left eleven dead;
a construction crane collapse that damaged three buildings and left five
dead; and a building explosion on New Year's Eve that damaged several Downtown
Buildings. In all cases, the emergency crews responded with support from
Public Works. Once the situation was in hand, the Public Works people assumed
control of the scene and began to restore conditions to normal. in each
case, the transition was smooth, which is a credit to the managers of all
responding agencies. There were lessons to be learned, but each succeeding
event saw a smoother changeover. Nothing beats a training exercise like
the real thing.