Before the Loma Prieta earthquake, plans were underway to relocate the City's primary Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The EOC was in the Oakland Hills, a few hundred feet from the Hayward Fault. It was too far from the City's administrative offices and too close to the fault line. Age had also taken it's toll on the facility. Recent drills and exercises raised questions about its dependability.
The Fire Department Administrative offices (OFD), at 16th and Martin Luther King, was designated as the primary EOC with Woodminster as the backup. Relocation activities and modification were underway when the earthquake occurred. Floor plans had been prepared and equipment ordered to create a functional EOC. However, on October 17, the EOC was not a functioning facility.
OES staff were prepared to report to OFD Administration in event of a disaster. It was quickly apparent that the earthquake response would require massive City resources. City officials decided to conduct EOC operations from OFD Headquarters although the proposed modification were not completed.
The EOC was activated by the Emergency Services Manager within 15 minutes following the earthquake. During this early response period, EOC support staff was not available. The Emergency Services Manager, in conjunction with the Assistant Fire Chief, performed the initial situation analysis. He also requested Alameda County to declare a State of Emergency and requested Fire Mutual Aid be implemented. Within the first 45 minutes following the earthquake, the Assistant City Manager, the Public Information Officer, and an OES Emergency Planning Coordinator arrived to support the EOC.
Full EOC staffing as specified in the Emergency plan became apparent that the major area of concern was the Cypress collapse. Some staff section, i.e. situation analysis and resources were not activated. Response to the EOC by departmental managers took some time. This was apparently the results of the amount of time required to comprehend the extent of damage. No complete telephone recall was attempted. The Staff that did respond during the initial 10 hours was adequate to staff the EOC.
In the initial hours, volunteer agencies and the utility companies were important to the effective functioning of the EOC. The Red Cross began opening shelters for earthquake victims and initiated canteen service for first responders. The phone company installed additional phone lines to the EOC. Amateur radio volunteers set up backup communications, in case the EOC lost either phone or radio communications.
A major challenge during the initial hours following the earthquake was to respond to the enormous volume of telephone calls volunteering support or requesting information. The Office of Personnel an Resource Management assigned city personnel to meet this challenge. People to answer phones and relay messages were very much needed. Clerical staff were assigned to the phone bank. They supplied the public with needed information for the 10-day response period. The EOC remained operational 24 hours a day for the 10 day response.
Fire and Police, who have the initial response roles, usually are the first departments to return to normal. As the Fire department finished its operations at the Cypress, Fire Administration personnel became impatient with having their offices unavailable to them. They requested City administration to wind down response activities so that the OFD Headquarters could be returned to normal use.
As tragic as this event was, luck played a significant role in the City's response. The lack of traffic due to the World Series contributed to the low loss of life and injuries on the Cypress Freeway. As a result of the short duration of the earthquake, 15 seconds, the City did not experience the additional collapse. There were no major fires or accidents in the City and looting was non-existent. The absence of other major damage allowed the City to concentrate all search and rescue activities at the Cypress Freeway. The City did, however, receive significant additional resources from other governmental jurisdictions through mutual aid and volunteers.
The purpose of situation analysis in an Emergency Operations Center is to take the raw damage assessment information which is coming in, and use it to prioritize and predict future resource needs. Situation analysis also insures that information gets to the appropriate department or task coordinator.
The primary type of request which required EOC personnel involvement were requests for government resources. In accord with the State's Disaster Plan requests that the City of Oakland could not meet were referred to the Operational Area Coordinator (Alameda County). County Emergency Services personnel were the point of contact. The plan calls for the County to meet these request or to refer them to the State through the OES Region II Office in Pleasant Hill.
This process proved to be cumbersome and ineffective. There was no effective system to track these requests. Requests were rarely denied; they just went unanswered. Neither the County or the State had a system to monitor or provide status on these request. Many telephone calls were made by City Emergency Management people to the county to try to get answers to request, usually without results. Although local military contacts had identified resources that were available at the local military installation, the State could never obtain approval from the federal government to use these resources. The State also could not keep the City informed on the status of these requests.
In addition, there was never complete instruction available on what information was required to accompany a request. Attempts by the State and Federal agencies to obtain additional information on a request normally bypassed intermediate agencies and came directly to the City. This frequently led to misunderstanding on the status of requests.
The Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) was never formally activated by the County or State. The local broadcast stations were very aggressive in obtaining and broadcasting information on the earthquake situation. They quickly announced the telephone number of the EOC, shelters and provided general information on response. Some of this information was wrong (everyone turn off their natural gas) but since so much information was available, there did not appear to be a need to activate the EBS. It was meant to be the surviving line of radio broadcasting stations after a nuclear attack. The quake did not destroy any radio or TV stations. It is not designed to support existing communication systems. Consequently, it was not activated in this event.