Those City departments charged with emergency response were fortunate to have large numbers of on-duty personnel available at the time of the earthquake. For example, all Oakland Fire Services companies were in quarters, with the exception of Engine 13, which was responding to an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) call. The Police Department's third platoon which has the largest number of officers, was on duty. This number was quickly increased as off-duty personnel returned to duty following the earthquake.

The Office of Public works (OPW) was able to bring personnel back to work soon after the earthquake. The callback procedures, which several OPW divisions had in place, brought back more staff than was needed in the initial hours of the disaster. Some staff members were told to go home and report back for the next shift.

A. Cypress

None of Oakland's 23 fire stations suffered major damage but most had some degree of power and communications loss. These losses hindered the Fire Department's response during the first twelve hours.

The Fire Dispatch Center (FDC), at Fire Headquarters, is normally staffed by two dispatchers and a dispatch supervisor. It is administered by a Fire Captain. At the time of the earthquake one of the Department Assistant Chiefs, the Shift Commander Battalion 2 Commander, was in the FDC. He immediately established a Headquarters Command Post at this location and began monitoring calls and dispatch status.

Initially, the Fire Dispatch Center dispatched resources to respond to incoming calls in the same quantities as required under normal circumstances. By 5:06 p.m. all of the fire companies in West Oakland (Engines 1,2,3, and 5 and Trucks 3 and 15) were assigned to calls. These wore the companies best positioned geographically to respond to the Cypress collapse.

All of these initial calls proved false. Engine 2 and Engine 5 although assigned to other calls had been unable to respond to dispatch because they were unable to open station doors. As they struggled to open the doors both Engines monitored the radio traffic between dispatch and the units in the field. Both heard the first dispatch of units to the Cypress and both heard other dispatched units report that the initial reports of collapses downtown were false.

Engine 2, after overhearing Engine 1 being reassigned to the Cypress, asked to be dispatched there as well. Engine 5, having seen smoke and dust rising from the Cypress area, self-dispatched to the collapse. Once at the Cypress, Engine 5 called for additional help. This call was not heard due to radio interference. The first detailed assessment of the Cypress collapse would not be heard at dispatch until 5:25 p.m.

Other units, which either did not hear their dispatches or found damage reports to be false, also self-dispatched to the Cypress. This made it difficult for those at the Dispatch Center to get an accurate picture of available resources.

At approximately 5:25 p.m. Truck 1 arrived at Cypress, assessed the situation, and called for additional resources. The call was heard and Battalion 3 was dispatched to 18th and Cypress.

Battalion 3 also radioed for more resources which were dispatched to the area with another Assistant Fire Chief, who took over response management at the scene. His first act was to move the Fire Command Post to the corner of West Grand and Cypress, and establish a joint command center with the Police Department.

At the Police Dispatch Center, evaluation of reports indicated the Cypress collapse should be the Department's response priority. At the same time, damage assessment in East Oakland and Downtown revealed little life threatening damage. Officers from these areas were reassigned to the Cypress collapse.

At Cypress, OPD officers participated in rescues and established safety perimeters around the area. OPD Traffic Commander arrived, at 7:00 p.m., to assume command of Cypress activities.

By 6:00 p.m. the Fire Department had determined the collapse of the freeway extended over 1.25 miles. Rescue operations were organized into two divisions, north and south, commanded by two battalion chiefs. Battalion 3 took the south area between West Grand and 17th Street. The north area was divided between east and west sides of the freeway.

Engines 2 and 3, and Truck 3, with supporting ambulance and paramedic units, formed a task force. They covered the west side of the collapse, making several technically challenging extrications. Engines 1 and 8 and Truck 20 were engaged, on the east side, in the difficult rescue of two young children, trapped in their family car.

The Fire Department called for a Parks and Recreation tower truck to raise and lower rescuers to different locations along the length of the collapse. When the truck arrived at the Cypress the fire personnel who requested it were gone and Police officers on site had no knowledge of the request. OPD directed the driver to park and await further instructions. After a lengthy wait without further directions, the truck returned to the municipal Service yard.

The Fire Department again requested the truck. Parks Service staff returned to the Cypress and were again sidelined by OPD. it was six hours between the time the initial request was received and the truck was finally used in rescue operations.

During the first hours of the response, Fire Headquarters Command directed the dispatchers not to assign the remaining Battalion Commanders. Based on California Mines and Geology scenarios for a major San Andreas earthquake, Fire expected major fires to erupt in the City. Command, therefore, chose to retain department leadership until the full extent of the disaster was known.

The north and south Fire divisions worked into the early morning hours of October 18th searching the Cypress structure for trapped victims. They entered any space that was big enough to be entered, calling out and then listening for movement using flashlights and groping through the darkness, Oakland fire personnel explored every vehicle they could reach, and removed victims wherever possible. The last live rescue that night came at 12:15 a.m. when the young boy who was found trapped in the family car was freed. This required amputating one of his legs.

During the entire night, Caltrans engineers warned rescuers that the structure could come down in an after shock. This did not dissuade those who risked their own lives to save people trapped in the collapsed structure. The Fire Department staged all its equipment on the west side of the structure. Caltrans engineers felt the structure would fall to the east if it did come down.

In the early hours of the morning the north division began to map the Cypress structure with information from search units. A secondary search was then organized with recalled firefighters and a six-person crew from San Ramon. This team was assisted by police dogs from Oakland and San Leandro police departments. Part of the team was assigned to the top deck where they moved from the north to south end of the collapse and checked all vehicles for victims. This search was completed by 2 am; all victims and bodies were removed from the upper deck.

The other members of the team with police dogs were lifted to access points between the collapsed decks. Wherever possible teams entered the collapse and took the dogs to each vehicle to check for signs of life. The search dogs did not sense life in any of the vehicles.

The remainder of the team used ladders to check access points on the east side of the collapse. After a complete search the teams spray-painted messages for the day search teams on the sides of the freeway.

Another search was conducted after 7 a.m. by a Throughout the day of October 18th, Mutual Aid teams and heavy rescue specialists arrived in Oakland to support the Cypress operation. These additional personnel operated from Fire Headquarters. Fire protection of most of the City of Oakland was provided by mutual aid. Oakland Fire Services' efforts were supported by a total of 12 additional Trucks and 15 additional engines, as well as three State OES heavy rescue fire units from 26 separate jurisdictions.

On the morning of October 20, all rescue operations were curtailed so arrangements could be made for the President's visit to the Cypress. OPD Criminal Investigation personnel were assigned to provide additional security to the President's tour. Two Fire Companies were detailed to provide crash/fire/rescue protection for the President who arrived with five accompanying support and press helicopters.

The President arrived at 9:45 am and toured the Cypress collapse with OPD escorts. The President's visit lasted approximately an hour. All rescue and body retrieval was halted for the Presidential visit. While providing National press coverage of the disaster, the visit of the President delayed rescue operations.

On October 21, a Caltrans engineer found the last live victim. This individual had been trapped in the Cypress for 86 hours. He died of his injuries one month later.

The response to the Cypress collapse was the major challenge to emergency response personnel. The Fire Department did responded to only one other structure rescue. The central stairwell of a ten-story building, at 13th and Broadway, totally collapsed. This collapse, coupled with the elevators being inoperable, trapped forty people inside. People on the second and third floors climbed down Fire ladders. Those trapped on floors four through eight, climbed out through an office window and down the Fire truck's aerial ladder. Finally, those above the eighth floor, were brought out across the roof of a parking garage next door.

B. Incident Command system

The Incident Command System (ICS) is an emergency management system used to coordinate and allocate resources of a multi-agency disaster response. The system was developed by a multi-agency fire response task force to manage large wild land fires. Since its development in the early 1970's, it has been adopted as the management system of choice for multiple agency response by Federal and State fire agencies. A significant number of local jurisdictions, including Oakland, have also adopted it.

The Oakland Fire Services implemented the incident Command System (ICS) in the first hour of the response when the first assistant Fire Chief arrived at the Cypress and took command of the incident. Battalion Chiefs and the third Assistant Chief filled out the ICS command structure by taking on the roles of Planning Chief, Staging manager, and operations Chief.

OFD had marginal success with the implementation of ICS. This was largely due to the lack of familiarity with the system. Introductory training in ICS had been done with a large portion of the Fire Department, but it had not been practiced on a wide scale.

It was clear that ICS was necessary to coordinate multi-agency emergency response. However, during the first evening, most agencies operated under their own version of ICS. There was no mobile command post where agency representatives could coordinate their activities.

On October 18th, the Incident Command Post was formally established at West Grand Avenue and Cypress Street with all affected agencies moving their vehicles into the area. Communications was established using cellular phones, radios, and 'drop lines' from the phone company. The Command Post was the site of planning meetings and briefings. These were held every six hours.

During the morning of October 18th, the Emergency Services Coordinator for the State office of Emergency Services arrived to assist OFD in the coordination of OES fire and rescue resources and help plan future operational needs. He called in the OES overhead Team, which assisted in the coordination of all resources at the Cypress collapse. They also directed the operations of the Incident Command System. This team arrived October 19. It remained on-site until October 24.

Late the morning of October 19th, it was decided to use a portion of Raimondi Park as a staging area for. fire and rescue equipment resources. Close to the Cypress, the Park later became a place where Cypress responders could sleep and eat.

Throughout the response, members of the OES Overhead Team worked along side their OFD Counterparts in all the ICS roles. Near the end of the response they formed a demobilization unit to oversee the release of mutual aid units from other jurisdictions. The Overhead Team held a debriefing for Oakland's Operations Staff to fully explain the Cypress Area command structure, procedures, operations, and associated problems. This system supported more than 1,000 responders from multiple agencies and jurisdictions for nearly one week.

C. Support Services

Immediately following the earthquake, American Red Cross (ARC) mobile disaster team's provided round-the-clock canteen support for rescue operations at the Cypress collapsed freeway. The Salvation Army and Burger King provided food support. This support was offered not only to the first responders but also to all the agencies involved in or reporting on the rescue operation.

Much later it was discovered that personnel from the Office of Public Works improvised their own food service, and in some cases, worked six to ten hours without eating. This coordination should have been handled through the EOC, but was overlooked in the heat of the operations.

Oakland Fire Department (OFD) organized a Peer Counseling Program in 1988. The Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) peer counselors began training in February 1989. They represent a cross-section of OFD personnel.

The CISD team members met at Fire Headquarters at 11:00 p.m. on October 17. They held debriefings there for all fire and medical personnel who were directed to Headquarters for food, rest and CISD counseling as soon as they completed their shifts at the Cypress.

The sessions were hold for 10 - 15 persons and lasted 30 - 45 minutes. All personnel were encouraged to discuss their rescue experience and what they felt about it in these sessions. The counselors also discussed the symptoms of post-incident stress are and how responders could deal with these symptoms.

The peer counselors were supported in their efforts by a private practice psychologist, an Alameda County Health Department team, and a team of firefighter peer counselors from Los Angeles County. Both the Alameda County and the Los Angeles County teams operated at the incident site.

Two groups were not included in the initial counseling sessions.-- the peer counselors themselves and the Fire Dispatchers. Both groups reported feeling drained and exhausted after the height Dispatch personnel were especially of the emergency activity affected.


  1. Make the purchase of a Mobile Command Posts a budget priority. (City Council, OPD, OFD)

  2. Stress Incident Command System training for all Emergency Response personnel. (OFD, OPD, Emergency Management organization)

  3. Conduct a joint review of rescue and body retrieval operations and consolidate the lessons learned from the earthquake into a procedures manual. (OFD, OPD)

  4. Work with Fire and emergency response experts to develop training programs for Oakland residents and employers in emergency response techniques. (Emergency Services, OFD)

  5. Develop procedures to manage dignitaries, tours of disaster sites without disturbing lifesaving work. (Emergency Services, City PIO, City Attorney)

  6. Purchase a radio system that allows all response departments to communicate directly with each other. (OGS, OPD, OFD, OPW, Emergency Services)

  7. Review dispatch center procedures to determine if any additional procedures need to be developed. (OFD, OPD)

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Communications, or return to 1989 Earthquake Exhibit