On October 17, 1989 at 5:04 p.m. Northern California was struck by an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale. Many cities in the Bay Area suffered significant losses. In Oakland alone, forty-two lives were lost when a 1.25 mile section of the I-880 Freeway collapsed. More than 800 City employees were displaced by damage done to City Hall and City Hall Annex. The majority of the City's low income housing stock (1300 units) was lost. And, Oakland's business community suffered millions of dollars of damage and lost revenues. In total, the City estimates $90 million in damages/expenses will be incurred as a result of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

The impact of this natural disaster is significant and long lasting. Examination of the issues and challenges faced by the City can improve its future planning. The After Action Report attempts to provide a thorough accounting of the events experienced by the City of Oakland in a way that helps its residents, businesses and other agencies be better prepared for a future earthquake.

The After Action Report covers the first 10 days following the Loma Prieta earthquake. Its focus is on RESPONSE activities. The data collected is the product of a thorough debriefing process conducted by the Office of Emergency Services staff with all City departments and with those outside agencies that were represented in the Oakland EOC. Only the initial RECOVERY activities of the City are discussed in the report, as the City expects to be in recovery for several years.

The report is organized by disaster response functions rather than by departments, and provides a summation of how various departments contributed to the completion of each task. Each chapter is concluded with recommendations for future improvements or changes.

The Executive Summary is a brief synopsis of the material detailed in each Chapter of the report. Reading it will only provide a general idea of the problems and solutions identified by the City. To glean a full and complete understanding of the City's accounting of the Loma Prieta earthquake, it is recommended the full After Action Report be read.

EOC Operations

At the time of the earthquake, the Oakland Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was being relocated from the basement of the Woodminster Amphitheater to Fire Station No. 1 located at 1605 Martin Luther King Way. As a result, the EOC facility was not fully functional at the time it was activated. However, the necessary enhancements, particularly in the area of communications, were installed within 12 hours of the event, and the Fire Station was able to meet the basic demands of an EOC operation.

The purpose of an EOC is to provide a location where centralized management of a disaster can occur. A small but sufficient number of emergency staff reported to the EOC within one hour. They helped coordinate and support the response operation until additional personnel arrived. Within the next 12 hours a full compliment of staff reported to the EOC.

Because the City's RESPONSE efforts were essentially limited to the Cypress I-880 collapse and because training in EOC operations had not reached all departments adequately prior to the earthquake, it was determined early on that the Emergency Services Division staff would lead the EOC operations. Situation Analysis, Resources, Sheltering and Intergovernmental Relations were directed by the City's three emergency services professionals. Staff to support these activities were identified and assigned within 24 hours.

The City recognizes that not all employees designated to play an important role during an emergency had been adequately trained. Emergency training is now emphasized as a part of the City's overall emergency management program.

At the time of the earthquake, the City's operational concept did not include the Incident Command System (ICS) for the EOC although it was used in the field by both Police and Fire. The City's current planning efforts call for incorporation of the ICS in the EOC operation.

Like other California local jurisdictions, the City has been educated and trained to utilize the state's operational area concept when dealing with disasters that exceed the City's response capabilities. In this case, the system in place to provide resources to the local jurisdiction seemed cumbersome and ineffective. The City is working with the County, State and Federal governments to define practical procedures for accessing this system in the future.

The Emergency Response

Oakland was fortunate in that the requirement for intense response activities was limited to one location, the Cypress 1-880 collapse. Other minor search and rescue efforts were required elsewhere in the City, none of which overwhelmed the City's first responders. The City escaped the fires that often accompany earthquakes. Other building damage, while significant, did not include collapse. Ample fire and police personnel were available for the initial response, but given the magnitude of the situation mutual aid participants were needed and accessed immediately. Eventually, more than seven different agencies were working together at the Cypress collapse. Their identities and roles are described in the text of the After Action Report.

The Incident Command System was used to manage the field operation, and it was found to be very helpful. Accordingly, increased attention to this management system will be given in future staff training.

General support at the Cypress represented another intense effort required immediately by the City. Much of the staff needed to perform these activities automatically reported to the City's Municipal Service Center in accordance with existing callback procedures. The media public service announcement system was also utilized to access other city personnel and equipment. In accordance with the City's Emergency Plan, the Office of Public Works provided an effective support system, including equipment, vehicles, technicians, tools and barricades to both police and fire operations.

Twenty-four hour activity continued at the Cypress collapse for several days. For this reason, a temporary Command Post at the site was established, but with certain limitations. The effectiveness of a mobile Command Center was highlighted by this event, and the City of Oakland has committed the funds to purchase two such vehicles to assist in future disaster operations.

The personal needs of responders, including bedding, food and psychological support, were met through a concerted effort launched by the Red Cross, the California Conservation Corps, the Oakland Fire Department and the Oakland office of Personnel and Resource Management. The City would like to underscore the need and value in providing appropriate care to ALL staff involved in an emergency. It is important to ensure that employees do not become victims themselves.


Communications is an essential component of any emergency operation. And it is frequently cited as the greatest problem faced by emergency responders in a disaster.

Damage to Oakland City Hall displaced 12 City departments. Few of these departments had established callback procedures. And, phone lists were frequently left behind in damaged offices. The office of Personnel and Resource Management (OPRM) attempted to aid departments by providing them with staff phone numbers but these were frequently outdated.

Equipment failures interfered with communications. Phone systems were out of service and a lack of electricity hampered the operation of radio systems. Both police and fire dispatch centers were overwhelmed by the call volume experienced in the first 12 hours. The majority of communication problems were resolved within the first 48 hours through the help of Pacific Bell, who had a representative in the EOC and through the use of cellular phones. However the City is changing its radio system to better ensure that ALL emergency responders can access one another, and additional phone lines are scheduled to be installed in the City's EOC.

Cities have a responsibility to keep the public, the media and its own employees informed of rescue operations and other pertinent activities/status reports throughout the emergency. Initially, the public called 911 for emergency information. This situation was corrected within the first few hours by announcing phone numbers at the EOC that could be called to obtain current disaster information. The demands for public information cannot be underestimated. Providing accurate and complete information is vital to a City's recovery. The City of Oakland had trained eight employees in the field of Emergency Public Information and is working to expand its capability in this area of communication.

Damage Assessment

Damage assessment has two distinct components/phases in a major disaster. Initially, an assessment of the entire jurisdiction must be made to advise and assist in the overall management of the event. Data is gathered to prioritize problems and allocate resources for the actual emergency response. This function is completed by the Police Department. During the first twelve hours of the Loma Prieta earthquake, damage assessment was conducted in a sporadic fashion with some police officers reporting damage within their beats. Unsolicited reports were also provided by concerned citizens. As mentioned earlier in this Executive Summary, it became clear early on that the Cypress collapse would be the City's major incident. More formalized and detailed damage assessment procedures are being developed for use by the Police Department in the future.

The second aspect of damage assessment includes the inspection of all facilities and buildings in the city that appear to have damage. It is the City's responsibility to identify any unsafe situations to which the general public may be exposed.

As prescribed in the Construction and Engineering Annex of the City's Emergency Plan, the Office of Public Works (OPW) became the repository of damage assessment information for most of the City. The Development Division gent a number of City and volunteer building inspectors to perform evaluations of all the City's damaged buildings. ATC-20 procedures developed by the Applied Technology Council (ATC) were used to facilitate the inspection process. A limited number of OPW personnel were trained in these procedures prior to the earthquake, which created a greater burden in accomplishing the task. Immediately following the earthquake those who were trained in ATC-20 procedures provided training for volunteer inspectors.

Aside from life saving activities; such as fire suppression and search and rescue, building inspection can be seen as one of the most intense activities facing a jurisdiction struck by an earthquake. To address the complexities and magnitude of this post disaster function, the City is developing an Operations Manual with detailed checklists and forms to be used by inspectors in the future. Appropriate training in the use of the manual will be emphasized.

Mass Care and Shelter

The Red Cross is mandated by Congress to provide mass care and shelter in any federally declared disaster. This effort is most commonly achieved through cooperation and coordination of the local jurisdiction where the disaster occurs. Typically, cities, school districts and the Red Cross enter memorandums of understanding that describe how this function will be completed prior to the disaster. The city of Oakland operated under these standard concepts during the Loma Prieta earthquake.

The shelter system in place at the time of the earthquake was based primarily on experience with floods. During floods shelter populations usually peak within the first 48 hours and then begin to disperse as the waters recede. Earthquakes, through aftershocks, continue to pose a hazard for days and potentially weeks after the initial event. Consequently, shelters tend to remain open for an extended period of time. This was true in the case of Oakland shelters.

Cities, with inflated real estate prices, will also find the length of time shelters are needed is increasing. Disasters have a disproportionate impact on older buildings, many of which provide low income housing. The rapid rise in housing costs in recent years has led to fewer alternatives to these buildings when they become uninhabitable. This also increases the amount of time shelters are needed.

Red Cross shelters were established in middle or high school in Oakland. These are the facilities with which Red Cross has pre-signed agreements. A significant proportion of the shelter victims were from damaged single room occupancy hotels. These victims had few resources and were not able to afford alternative housing.

Many of these victims had to be moved from the hotels to the shelters, after building inspectors found the hotels to be unsafe. Moving hotel residents to the shelters took the cooperation of several departments. Parks and Recreations Park Rangers oversaw the move and provided security. Public Works staff provided residents with evacuation notices. They were assisted by staff from the Office of Community Development (OCD), which works with low-income populations. The victims were transported, free of charge, on buses supplied by Alameda County Transit (AC Transit).

At the end of one month's time shelter residents who were unable to find replacement housing were moved into long-term homeless shelters.

Continuity of Government

The displacement of twelve City departments had a tremendous effect on the City's ability to continue its normal functions. Each department, with the help of OPW and OGS, attempted to find space to which staff could be relocated.

Frequently, temporary spaces could not accommodate full department staff. Work was then done in shifts or employees worked out of their homes. In some cases, departments which were undamaged accommodated portions of the displaced departments, giving them access to office equipment. Most departments moved at least twice before finding long term space.

Data processing was a function most departments needed access to for doing payroll and meeting financial obligations. Terminals, within the Office of Corporate Information Services and the Finance Department, were made available to several department payroll clerks. This sharing of space continued for months.

The City Attorney, where possible, housed its staff with clients or in other firms. This gave staff continued access to legal resources. At the same time, the office was granted a 60-day stay order on all City litigation.

The Office of Personnel and Resource Management (OPRM) was displaced by the earthquake. This Office lost hundreds of completed employment examinations, thus making it impossible to fill these positions. it also lost access to personnel files for several months. This Office alone was set back 4 or 5 months by the damage done to City Hall.


The Recovery process will be a long one for the City. No one in the City foresaw the need to relocate 12 departments or what the cost of doing so would be in terms of employee frustration and lost work time. Nor did anyone realize what a massive process it would be to apply for and receive aid. These two projects took up significant amounts of staff time in the first six months following the earthquake.

Several departments experienced two to four temporary moves before being established in a long term location. Each time a department moved phone service would have to be transferred to that new location this seldom worked easily and rarely did more than one line get forwarded to the new location.

Other issues for these departments in trying to recover included access to copying machines and computer terminals, being without a place to meet with employees, being unable to reach other departments, and being without office furniture or supplies. All of these issues made recovery a difficult and frustrating process.

The other major issue for the City in terms of recovery was the ability to recoup costs for response activities and damage suffered. These costs would be recovered from Federal and State governments through institutionalized aid programs. The process of applying for this compensation from the Federal government through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has necessitated establishing a task force, a FEMA costs division within the Department of Finance and additional work within several departments to track, report and document these costs. This process is ongoing and will be for years.

Introduction, or return to 1989 Earthquake Exhibit