a disaster strikes, we spend a lot of time trying to write a disaster plan,
practicing the plan, and modifying it as needed. Too often, I think we
become mesmerized by the plan and forget the basics of good management.
I contend that the skills needed to manage a disaster are the same as those
that are needed to manage a well thought-
In Public Works, there is a very definite change in the role we play. At first, we simply respond to the demands placed on us. These demands may be for street clearance, rubble removal, heavy equipment to lift objects off victims, or for temporary lights or other equipment. We may be called on to make temporary repairs, knock down a wall, transport fuel, or make inspections of buildings that are key to the emergency, such as hospitals and care facilities.
We have to remember that we are a resource to those that are busily engaged in search and rescue and, as such, sometimes have to stand in the background and wait to be called on. Some conditions may require that we use unusual methods to secure supplies to provide for the people directly involved in the rescue efforts. Do not worry, just do it and keep good records.
Do not worry, our time will come. The dust will have hardly settled when we will have to begin the routine of starting to put the City back together again. This will include damage assessment and information gathering to assist the Mayor in requesting outside help in whatever form.
The recovery will also include the initiation of an inspection processes to insure the safety of the people that live and work in San Francisco, as well as those who visit here. Even as we are making those first inspections, we will, in all likelihood, be ordering the demolition of buildings that are dangerous. We will also be classifying other less dangerous buildings with a gross description of their condition.
In this regard, the private building owners can be of significant help by getting their own engineers to do this work. In the two weeks that followed October 17th, our inspectors and hundreds of volunteers inspected over 10,000 buildings. This was not all of the building stock in the City, and by no means could we have inspected all of it in a timely manner. Much of the inspection work was done by the engineers that serve a particular building.
While the Building Inspection process is going on, the utility companies will be chaffing at the bit to get back in service. In this regard, they will have a lot of support from their customers who want the services restored. This is the time that a very firm, but fair, hand is needed to keep the situation under control. There will be a lot of pressure to work around the clock, to abandon all work rules, and to Proceed full Speed ahead -- Don't!!
Above all, at this time you hold everyone at bay until the entire underground utility and street situation can be analyzed and a course of action developed that will most expeditiously restore services. By all means, remember that the analysis of conditions mutt be made quickly, rules must be established that will keep everyone informed at all times.
In doing this, the Department of Public works has taken charge of the restoration efforts. There is no longer much need for Fire or other emergency teams to remain in charge so the transition should be handled quite smoothly. It is more important than ever to maintain good records through all of this, both for recovery of funds and for liability protection.
By this time of the recovery period, people will start to wear out. The adrenaline flow will slow and we will all be a little less responsive. Accept this fact and work with it. Everyone needs their rest so you have to be very firm about them getting it. Yet, the general public will be impatient for action. At this time, you will have to be very careful in your communications with employees and the rest of the world. Be clear and accurate and, above all, be concerned. In this way, while the Department is in charge, the charge is more easily accepted by others.
Finally, the repair and restoration work will cease being temporary patchwork and will take on a permanent nature. Now, above all, a serious effort will be needed to coordinate the activities of a myriad of organizations. They all must be treated with an evenhanded manner, or else they might just mutiny and either they will take control or else all control will be lost.
The last things that will need to be done will be those that remove the temporary facilities that were brought in to help get the situation under control. This may include final disposal of building debris, portable toilets, and other items. it is now that the importance of those records that were kept in the beginning becomes apparent .
management techniques, open lines of communication, and a spirit of cooperation
will almost guarantee success. Remember, Public Works deals with issues
that are mostly objective. issues that deal with people are better left
to those that are trained to deal with people and, in this way, when the
roles change again, the change should be made smoothly.