Museum of the City of San Francisco



By Subject

By Year


The Gift Shop

OCTOBER 17, 1989 5:04 PM
By FERN A. MODENA, Central Control Dispatcher #36

It began as a normal rush hour at Central Control. I was working mainly with articulated motor coaches, express buses, and standard coaches. The floor began to move, but at first we just thought it was a train passing beneath us with flat wheels (our office is right over West Portal Station). After about three seconds, when it didn't stop, we knew it was an earthquake. I saw the sound baffles moving, and dove under my console. As I did, my husband, Jerry, who was working nearby, yelled for everyone to get under their console.

As soon as the shaking stopped, I climbed out. It had seemed like a long time, but really wasn't. The lights were gone, the phones were dead, the computers were acting crazy, but our citywide radio channel was working. While we waited for the generator to kick in and restore our computers, I went citywide and told all LRV Operators to key down and all trolley operators to pull down their poles and secure their coaches for safety.

Then the fun began. The computer came back, a and the screen lit up like a Christmas tree. Operators and Inspectors began telling us what it was like outside our warm, dark room. I began using my "Mommy voice," reassuring the operators I spoke to, trying to give them enough guidance and reassurance to get the citizens of San Francisco home. I authorized overtime to the many operators who volunteered to keep working, telling them to use their best common sense, and to assist the police and anyone else who needed their help. In addition, I used our direct lines to summon ambulances to medical emergencies, sent coaches to the hospital with injured people, and sent more coaches to the Marina for the Red Cross.

We had one of the few working televisions in San Francisco, running on generated power, but the seriousness of it all didn't really hit until after we finally got off work, and began driving home through the quiet, darkened city.

By Gerald S. Modena, Central Control #13

It started out as a quiet Tuesday afternoon at Central Control.

By 5:00 p.m, the evening rush hour was well under way. I was working the Metro Console and helping the dispatcher on Channel 5. The World Series was about to get under way at Candlestick. A four-car Metro train was entering West Portal Station at 5:04. The room rumbled slightly, as it does when an outbound train is entering the station, but this rumble felt different. A deep throated roar accompanied the mild shaking, but the shaking increased, so did the sound. Before long the room was pitching and swaying like a ship on the high seas. Someone in the room yelled, "EARTHQUAKE," then the real force of Mother Nature hit. The false ceiling began to gyrate and bow, the water cooler danced but did not topple over, we dove under our consoles. The lights went out and the emergency lights came on immediately. Our radios, telephones, and computer screens no longer worked. The emergency generators kicked in and the radios and computers came back on line.

With a shaky voice I stopped all the trains in the subway and began calling the Street Inspectors to report to the subway for evacuation of the passengers. I found out later that [Municipal Railway General Manager] William Stead, along with the Station Agents and four Inspectors successfully evacuated thousands of people from the dark subway without a single injury. Most managers arrived at Central Control within an hour of the quake. William Stead got on the hotline phone to the Mayors Emergency Control Center and coordinated efforts for the Muni. We had over thirty trains trapped in the blackened out subway. The Operators stayed with their trains throughout the night. They were without lights and radios, because we lost the subway repeater. Mr. Stead's concern was to get the power on and pull the trains in. He was able to get PG&E to give us priority and the trains began leaving the subway by 10:30 that evening.

Reports from the drivers and Inspectors on the street began coming in over the radio, someone brought in a television and between calls, we were able to see how devastating the quake really was. I was surprised and happy, that although my hands were shaking, and my stomach felt like Jello, I was able to do my job and help others in the city get home.

I have been at Muni for twenty-two years and have heard it called a family before but not until that terrible night did I really feel the true meaning of those words.

Go to Next Exhibit or Return to MUNI Exhibit Page
Return to top of page