The public was largely unaware of how seriously City government had been affected by the Loma Prieta quake. Damage to City Hall, City Hall West and Charles Greene Library displaced 12 City departments. Following the earthquake, some departments attempted to retrieve documents, reference materials and equipment from their offices. Entrance to damaged buildings was denied to all personnel on the afternoon of October 18th when it was announced that it was not safe to enter these buildings. This left many departments without equipment and data resources that were needed for ongoing projects.

Despite these difficulties, the City continued to meet its obligations and provided Oakland citizens with municipal services. obligations which had to be fulfilled incltded: paying bills, meeting payroll, maintaining contractual relationships, keeping equipment running, arraigning criminal suspects, meeting the City's legal obligations, and holding public hearings.

A. The Work Environment

Prior to the earthquake specific Departmental recovery issues had not been fully addressed. No one predicted the extent of damage to City offices, nor had consequences of relocating the majority of City offices been foreseen.

The task of finding pew office space was initially assigned to the Buildings Division of the Office of General Services (OGS). This Division was caught unprepared for the size of this task. Estimates of the total office space allotment needed was 180,000 square feet. This did not include space for meetings or storage of City documents and archives.

Departments, with real estate information and an awareness of space design, were asked to assist OGS. Representatives from City Planning, Building Division of OGS, and Real Estate Division of OPW pooled information. This was an effective way to identify space, but there was not an equally effective way to reserve space.

The process of identifying space, confirming departmental commitments, and signing a lease took time. other entities, both public and private, competed with the City for space and would sometimes move more quickly to secure offices. Many departments, or portions of departments, moved four to six times before being located in a semi-permanent location.

City management considered, but ruled out, commandeering the Oakland Convention Center to house staff temporarily. It could have been equipped with computers and copiers to provide a limited number of workstations which departments could schedule on a rotational basis. It was not used because this move would have disrupted the conference and event schedule.

City Administration decided, within 24 hours of the earthquake, to deny all access to City Hall and City Ball West due to their unstable condition. Some departments, having acted quickly on their own authority, had already removed sufficient materials to be able to do their work. Others, however, were without even paper or pens. Eventually furniture, documents, and office equipment were transferred from the damaged buildings to new department offices. Everything was moved at once by a company with which the City already had a contract.

It was too large a task to move furniture and file cabinets each time a department moved. In most temporary locations furniture was limited to large, collapsible tables and folding chairs. Only files which were critically needed were brought, in cardboard boxes, to temporary locations. This simplified moving operations, but it did not produce good working conditions.

This situation was tolerable for a few weeks following the earthquake but a few departments worked under these conditions until June/July of 1990. Conditions included: inadequate phone service, lack of access to either copy machines or computers, and separation from other City government functions. Affected departments reported higher levels of absenteeism and job dissatisfaction among employees.

Departments' needs were accommodated in many ways. Although only four computer terminals were damaged by the earthquake, the rest were left behind. These terminals were unavailable until computer technicians could remove and refurbish them. But, the Office of Computer Information Services (OCIS) provided access to computer terminals within their offices for doing payroll, making supply requests, and meeting vendor payments.

Additional services were improvised to help departments function. Copiers were shared and a copying center was established in a central location. A shuttle service between displaced departments began running in November, 1989. This service helped to reduce the sense of isolation experienced by some departments. It also eased concerns about adequate parking.

The City Clerk's staff was responsible for locating space to hold public hearings and council meetings. They also identified space to store the City's enormous archives which were damaged in the earthquake. Records were dumped from the shelves when the shaking began. Afterwards they were damaged further by water from broken fire sprinkler lines. These records had to be removed from the damaged building and properly reshelved if they were to be saved.

Relocating vital records consumed considerable staff time. One person was redirected from pre-earthquake activities to fulltime coordination of records relocation. Before records could be moved they had to be videotaped and photographed to document the damage. This effort began in October, 1989 and was completed in June, 1990.

The City, s greatest resource was its staff. Many individuals put in long hours under stressful conditions. Employees, from displaced departments, were often reassigned to the response effort where they performed beyond expectations.

At the same time, those departments which received little damage were rarely used to assist other departments in their specific recovery efforts. Both the museum and the library escaped major damage to facilities or collections. Both offered meeting space and phones to departments which were displaced. However, these staff and equipment resources were under utilized.

B. Maintaining Law and Order

Soon after the earthquake, Oakland had to decide how to continue to meet its legal obligations and continue its law and order function. City Attorney and Oakland Police had to prioritize their activities and find alternative means for conducting some of their functions.

After the earthquake, the Municipal Court closed to await building inspection. According to the law, the District Attorney still has to bring in-custody defendants before a magistrate within 48 hours. After a joint meeting with representatives of the concerned agencies, a temporary arraignment court was set up in the Criminal Investigation Division's line-up room. Whenever possible, defendants were released on their own recognizance or cited. This situation continued for three days.

The District Attorney's Office and the Court agreed that anyone caught looting would be held without bail. However, there were no confirmed reports of looting during the response. The only criminal act related to the earthquake was trespassing when some homeless people entered damaged buildings looking for a place to sleep. This was a greater threat to the trespassing individuals than to the property owners.

During the week following the earthquake, OPD reduced its downtown patrolling to provide additional resources to the Cypress collapse. This meant damaged downtown buildings were more vulnerable to trespass. Owners were encouraged to hire private security guards.

OPD did not allocate manpower resources to direct traffic where signals were out. Instead OPD relied on Public Works (OPW) to repair malfunctioning traffic lights or place flashing lights in intersections. OPW also supported OPD in restricting access to the Cypress area.

At the same time that OPW was carrying out traffic control duties, the Parking Enforcement Division experienced a reduction in responsibilities. Enforcement of metered parking and street sweeping regulations in certain areas of the City was curtailed for a limited span of time. This was done to accommodate displaced City departments and businesses, as well as numerous state and federal officials and assistance counselors needing access to facilities with limited off street parking.

The City Attorney's staff developed alternate solutions to meet their responsibility. They located work space for staff who did not wish to work at home, sought and obtained a 60-day stay order for all City litigation, made arrangements with outside firms to take cases pro bono, and advised City Administration on policy and liability issues.

The Office of the City Attorney responded very effectively to the earthquake. They did so by prioritizing their projects, accentuating the need for continual communications, recognizing symptoms of stress and utilizing All available resources.

C. Working with the Public

The City is a major Oakland employer. The Office of Personnel Resource management (OPRM) was displaced by the earthquake, which caused the Examination and Recruitment Division's work to fall behind four or five months.

Each personnel examination costs $5,000 to administer. Hundreds of recently administered personnel examinations were lost leaving positions vacant for months and costing the City thousands of dollars to readminister the exams at a later date. This Division did not fully recover its operations capability until November 1990.

The Human Resource Information System (HRIS), another OPRM division, was not displaced, but was forced to alter its operations to process the entire OPRM employee payroll. This resulted in lost time for other regular projects.

OPRM also lost access to vital personnel files. This prevented the department from acting on many personnel matters or responding to requests for personnel information.

Other departments had similar difficulty working without access to files, i.e. City Planning (Permits and Zoning). As a result some staff members, without permission, re-entered City Hall and gathered enough supplies and files to allow these two divisions to function at a minimal level.

At the same time, citizens who suffered damage from the earthquake were anxious to begin repairs or to rebuild. The Office of Public Works had to temporarily suspend the issuance of building permits because staff were fully committed to emergency respotse needs. Staff did not have time to enforce building permit requirements on people who began construction without a permit. As with other City regulations, permit requirements had to be relaxed to accommodate emergency circumstances.

Building owners with repairs under $25,000 were able to begin work providing they obtained permits within 30 days. Those owners with repair costs over $25,000 had to obtain the permit first. This reduced the immediate demand on the system.

In accordance with the City's Emergency Ordinance No. 10923, the purchasing process was also streamlined. The departments of Finance and General Services waved the paperwork normally required for encumbering funds and purchasing materials to allow departments to meet emergency needs. This worked well until departments began to have budget shortfalls and Finance attempted to return the system to normal.

Several issues which arosie over the weeks following the earthquake continue to plague the City. They include:

However, during the response, not one payroll, nor one payment to vendors was missed. The City did meet its obligations due to the ingenuity and dedication of the staff.

  1. Transfer all City archival information from existing documentary formats to computer data formats. (City Clerk)

  2. Prepare an Administrative Instruction with procedures for backing up data files. Suggest off-site storage locations for critical data. (OCIS)

  3. Develop a plan for phone service restoration and include how to notify the public of new numbers for displaced departments. (OGS, City Clerk and OCIS)

  4. Assign responsibility for developing guidelines to retrieve needed resources from damaged City buildings. (Risk Management, OGS)

Go to Recovery, or return to 1989 Earthquake Exhibit