The San Francisco Sheriff's Department has been an integral part of the City since 1847. As San Francisco is a contiguous City and County, the law enforcement duties of the Sheriff have traditionally included the jails, courts, and civil enforcement, while the San Francisco Police Department has the primary responsibility of controlling street crime. Administered by an elected Sheriff, the Department presently employs four hundred and forty-eight trained, sworn, full-time peace officers.
When there is a major disaster, emergency, or an event that taxes the resources of the Police Department, the Sheriff's Department is the first law enforcement agency called to assist when mutual aid is necessary. To help prepare for any eventuality, the Sheriff's Department maintains a trained, fully equipped, Emergency Services Unit. Additionally, the Department as a whole participates in emergency drills and planning exercises held by the Police Department, the Office of Emergency Services and other local, state, and federal agencies.
When the earthquake struck on Tuesday, October 17th, at 5:04 p.m. the Sheriff's Department had two-thousand prisoners in custody, and was starting a routine four-to- twelve shift. Like most City agencies, many Sheriff's personnel were leaving their day- shift work assignments and heading home. Unlike many city agencies, however. the Sheriff's Department has employees on duty at it's major jail facilities twenty-four hours a day.
This core of trained, sworn, peace officers, on duty at the time the earthquake hit, gave the Department the ability to maintain control of it's jail facilities while setting up staging areas for the arrival of off-duty personnel who were called in to work.
After the initial shock of the earthquake, Departmental personnel immediately checked the status of all Sheriff's facilities using the Department-wide radio frequency. contacting the county jails, General Hospital (Ward 7D/7L), and Work Furlough. By 5:30 p.m., we knew that no injuries had been sustained by either Sheriff's staff or the inmate population. Sheriff's buildings were secure, with the exception of minor gas leaks and some non- severe structural damage. Available engineering staff rapidly secured all leaks and began the process of declaring the buildings safe for occupancy.
Sheriff's personnel began reporting back to the Hall of Justice and San Bruno Custody Divisions, in response to media alerts and the call-in efforts of on duty staff. It should be noted that nearly fifty percent of the Department's deputized staff live within San Francisco, a fact that made it possible for a large number of people to report to work, although access to the City from other Bay Area communities was virtually cut off.
Administrative- and managerial-rank officers reported to the Hall of Justice Custody Division to coordinate the Departmental disaster response. By 7:30 p.m. the Sheriff, Undersheriff, and enough command rank officers were present to begin planning for the mutual assistance request that would be forthcoming from the Police Department. A Sheriff's Command Post was set up on the 7th Floor of the Hall of Justice, and arriving deputized staff were directed to report to the Police Auditorium located on the 6th floor of the same building for briefing and assignments.
Staff at the Command Post began an inventory of available vehicles, emergency equipment, and deputized officers. An administrative decision was made to begin a twelve-hour work day for all deputized staff, and to arrange appropriate reliefs and twelve hour schedules for all Sheriff's facilities.
Arrangements were made for staff to sleep on site, using the gymnasium on the 7th floor, the conference room at the San Bruno Annex, and other available areas. The Sheriff and other managerial staff met with Deputy Chief Reed of the Police Department to brief him on available Sheriff's resources and decide how best to augment and assist the Police Department.
By 10 p.m., when the Sheriff was formally approached by the Police Department for mutual aid, eighty uniformed, equipped, officers, plus supervisors, were available for street duty. In addition, a dozen Sheriff's vehicles, marked and unmarked, and three custody equipped buses, were placed at the disposal of the Police Department.
The first request from the Police was to send 15 deputies and a supervisor to both Northern and Potrero stations, to assist the Police in patrolling the streets. Police officers and deputies would use both Police and Sheriff's vehicles, with red lights on, to maintain a high visibility in these areas. The deputized staff were dispatched within fifteen minutes of the request.
The Police Department also requested that the Sheriff's Department assume the duty of transferring arrestees from all district police stations to County Jail #1, releasing Police officers normally assigned this function for patrol. Four Sheriff's deputies and a supervisor were assigned, releasing a minimum of ten police officers for street duty. In addition, four deputies and a supervisor were detached to a severely damaged City Hall, to provide security, and to 100 Larkin St., the temporary City Hall.
The second request from the Police Department came at 11:35 p.m. when a third group of fifteen deputies and a supervisor were requested to report to Southern Police Station to assist the police in patrol duties. Almost immediately, another request was received to send an additional fifteen deputies to Northern Station. The requested staff were sent.
During the first evening, the Sheriff's Department patrolled the streets and made arrests, manned barricades to keep people out of the most severely damaged areas. escorted Red Cross vehicles and personnel throughout the City, and maintained security at the disaster centers at Marina Middle School and Moscone Center. These personnel were out on street duty until 9 a.m. the next morning.
At our numerous meetings with the Police Department, we had agreed to provide mutual aid to the same degree until further notice or some significant change occurred. The Police Department requested that the Sheriff schedule personnel to supplement and replace the Police from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. daily.
The Sheriff's duties over the next three days mirrored the original Police requests. Nearly one-hundred deputized and supervisory Personnel reported on Wednesday and Thursday to assist the Police in patrol, staffing barricaded areas, providing security at City Hall, escorting emergency personnel, transferring arrestees from the district police stations to County Jail #1, and maintaining order in the district disaster centers at Marina Middle School and Moscone Center. These assignments were from 8 o'clock at night to 8 A.M. the following morning.
During the four days of disaster response (Tuesday the 17th through Friday the 20th) Sheriff's personnel also maintained the security and proper operation of the jail system. the courts (when operation resumed on Thursday, the 19th), and regular transportation duties. When ordered to stand down on Friday, the 20th, the Sheriff's Department was planning to commit an additional one hundred officers from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday to assist the police if needed.
What Have We Learned?
Two weeks after the October 17th earthquake, a debriefing was held with supervisory staff and key line personnel who participated in the disaster response, both in the jail facilities and assisting the Police Department. The following recommendations for increasing Departmental preparedness were generated at this meeting.
1) Develop a comprehensive Sheriff's Department Emergency Response Plan
This plan would address problems that occurred with staff reporting, coordination between facilities, relief and rotation, and chain of command.
2) Upgrade Departmental critical information and make it routinely available to the facilities, both computerized and in hard copy form.
Emergency call in and tracking of staff would have been easier if more up to date personnel information was available at the facility level.
3) Develop budgetary guidelines regarding compensation and necessary documentation.
By designing simple check-in sheets and a system of personnel documentation to be kept at designated arrival points, collection of needed information for post-emergency review would be made simpler.
4) Exchange information with other affected agencies, including the SFPD, Office of Emergency Services, Fire Department. Department of Public Health, Szabo Food Services, and our own engineering staff.
It would be useful at this point to sit down with the above agencies, critique this past emergency, and develop Letters of Agreement and procedures on how future emergencies would be dealt with. The City should set up a standing committee of emergency personnel to meet quarterly, to prepare citywide drills and to review procedures and intra- departmental conflicts as they arise.
5) Do a master inventory of all Departmental emergency equipment/Mark all existing equipment.
Departmental equipment issued by the facilities over the course of the emergency did not all make it back to the point of issuance.
6) Survey Departmental communications needs
Radio communications between the Sheriff and Police were difficult, as no Police radios were available and our frequencies are not compatible. Sheriff's radios are of four different types. which meant that different chargers and batteries had to be located to recharge units in the field. Command personnel had few working beepers.
7) Pursue Federal Surplus Inventory Program to obtain needed equipment
In thess days of limited local resources, the Department should seek alternative methods to insure that equipment needs are fulfilled to the best of our ability.
8) Obtain more vehicles/re-deploy existing vehicles/upgrade vehicle equipment and supplies
It was discovered that the Department does not have a sufficient number of marked units for field service, and that the supplies of flares, spotlights, first aid kits, and fire extinguishers in the existing vehicles were not adequate.
9) Develop vendor resources list to obtain needed on an emergency basis This would enable the Department to obtain needed supplies of batteries, flashlights, and other necessary items on short notice.
10) Identify Departmental equipment needs
During the emergency, it was noted that the Department did not have adequate supplies of bullet-proof vests, radios, rain gear, flashlights, batteries, and flares to send with personnel. In addition, the facilities needed generators and emergency lighting to sustain minimum operational needs.
Sheriff's Department personnel need to train, drill and document training in emergency procedures in emergency procedures an use of emergency equipment.
The Sheriff's Department's role in the earthquake disaster response was two-fold; first was to insure that the security of the jail system and its inhabitants was maintained at all times, the second was to supplement and replace police personnel so that a highly visible law enforcement profile was present on City streets. These roles were recognized in Resolution No. 863-89 of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors ... .
The Sheriff's Department will greatly affect City resources in any emergency. In the event the jails can be immediately secured and safely operated, we can offer personnel, equipment. and other support to the City.
In the event the jails are adversely effected, however, we may require support from other City departments until the jails are secure and we can maintain a safe environment for persons committed to our custody. The City would be wise to plan for both eventualities.
Return to the 1989 Earthquake Exhibit