Initial Damage Assessment is the responsibility of the Police Department; and is both immediate and cursory in order to advise City officials of where and how the City's resources should be allocated.
Initial damage reports came from the public through the 911 system. Unfortunately, a significant number of citizen reports were inaccurate. Deployment of personnel and equipment in response to some of these calls strained already limited resources that were most needed on the Cypress Street structure.
For this reason the Oakland Police Department (OPD) , very early in the response, decided that field commanders and supervisors needed to prioritize the damage reports being received through the 911 system. As a result, most real problem areas were more quickly identified. Ultimately this field assessment helped to determine the level of emergency response needed, and to coordinate resources with other City departments.
Police officers in East Oakland, an area that appeared to have little damage, were directed to make visual inspections of their assigned areas and report any damage to their respective supervisors. supervisors. This information was then relayed to the Watch Commander. This process, although time consuming, helped to consolidate damage assessment information and reduce radio traffic.
OPD also received calls from other City department officials who requested damage assessment information. OPD assigned a dispatcher trainee to maintain a log of calls related to earthquake damage so this information could be relayed to City staff. As a direct result, in the first few hours following the earthquake, OPD had the most accurate damage assessment information available. However, this information was not available to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) until the OPD representative arrived at the EOC later that evening.
The Fire Department provided a support role in damage assessment as prescribed in the Oakland Emergency Plan.
The Fire Department received the first report, of the I-880 collapse near Cypress Street at approximately 5:10 p.m. At that time, no one knew the extensiveness of the collapse. The first engines, which were dispatched to that area, were sent to 8th and Cypress, as this was the address reported. Field Unit reports on the Cypress went unheard until 5:25 p.m., due to radio traffic congestion.
The Assistant Fire Chief, who was running operations at Fire Headquarters, requested that the police helicopter make an aerial survey of the City. He was informed that the helicopter was down for repairs. Fire and EOC personnel then relied heavily on television coverage, which was utilizing helicopters, to get a clearer picture of the City's overall needs.
The Police Department also received reports on the damaged Cypress freeway from field units in West Oakland and citizens living or working in the area. As these reports were evaluated the magnitude of the collapse became more clear. OPD emergency resources were then concentrated in this area. The Cypress area received the most attention because of the immediate threat to human life. Field surveys of the downtown area showed that it suffered primarily property damage. East Oakland, with the exception of the Airport, reported minor property damage such as damaged chimneys and downed power lines. This assessment allowed the department to re-deploy resources, from downtown and East Oakland, to the freeway collapse.
Members of the Police Airport Helicopter Section at the Metropolitan Oakland International Airport (MOIA) reported to Headquarters that MOIA had experienced damage to both building and the main runway and would have to cancel landings to complete additional inspections of the property. Fortunately, there were no injuries and the on-site Airport Helicopter Section officers were able to manage the crowd.
In-depth damage assessment could not be completed in the first 12 hours following the earthquake. The City was unable to conduct a thorough damage assessment until first light on the morning of October 19. The Office of Public Works (OPW) dispatched City and volunteer building inspectors into the field and had primary responsibility for the City's overall damage assessment.
At the time of the earthquake, the three Office of General Services (OGS) chief building engineers were still in the field. They proceeded to do a visual damage assessment of all City-owned buildings. This was completed before dark. More detailed assessments waited until dawn when there was better light and the OPW building inspectors were able to join the OGS building engineers.
Three facilities which received immediate attention were City Hall, City Hall West, and the City's Municipal Service Center. City Hall and City Hall West housed the majority of the City's departments. Both suffered significant structural and non-structural damage. Although the quake occurred after most employees had gone home, it was still important to check both these buildings for injured employees who may have been left behind in the initial evacuation. This was of particular concern in City departments how to conduct a damage assessment and when to resume normal operations.
At 6:00 a.m. on October 18th, Office of Public Works (OPW) Engineering and Design Services Division began to assess the damage as well as to track and record all reports. -- Accuracy of these records provided documentation for State and Federal aid requests. This was the first concerted effort by the City to track incoming damage reports.
Prior to the earthquake some of the Design Services staff had been through the- Applied Technology Council's (ATC) training on procedures for conducting building inspections following an earthquake. They trained building inspectors who were sent into the field. OPW, Construction and Field Services developed an inspection process from the ATC manuals, using the ATC-20 format. This was taught in an abbreviated form to City employees and volunteers doing inspections. Additional inspectors were solicited from surrounding cities and counties. Staff also used personal contacts to recruit more inspectors.
Although the City needed additional inspectors, OPW resources were strained managing the ones they had. All volunteers were interviewed, registered, oriented to the City, and in many cases, trained in ATC-20 procedures. once this work force was in the field, they also had to be briefed and debriefed daily. The technical nature of the task required that Construction and Field Services staff manage this volunteer force at a time when all staff were needed in the field.
Once in the field, the inspectors used maintenance radios to keep in touch with OPW staff. However, the high volume of calls overloaded the frequencies. Communications were improved by the addition of cellular phones.