Bay Area receives mixed grades on emergency communications
By Brent Begin, Bay City News Service
January 4, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - The federal Department of Homeland
Security released a report yesterday grading the country's disaster
communications systems and while the Bay Area fared well overall,
San Francisco was left with room for improvement.
The scorecard rates "interoperable communications,"
the ability of people to communicate with each other through different
bandwidths and through command chains.
The ability to communicate is tantamount in the case of a disaster,
according to Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff, who
instituted the scorecards.
According to the study, San Jose only has minor improvements
to make in training while Oakland displayed problems in the governance
Out of three categories, however, San Francisco was left with
a lot to work on.
San Francisco's Department of Emergency Management Executive
Director Laura Phillips said she knew the report would leave room
"I welcome the report," she said in a phone interview.
"We knew that the purpose was to allow us to evaluate our
response and improve."
Much of San Francisco's problems stem from issues that have been
around for a long time, Phillips said. One of the problems is
Radio waves and other frequencies don't travel well through the
hills and other physical barriers.
Another problem is funding, Phillips said. The emergency agency
has had a tough time keeping up with and affording the new technologies
that allow different agencies in the Bay Area to seamlessly communicate.
The good news, she said, is that the police and fire departments
within the city can communicate with each other via radio. When
the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hit New York City, emergency crews
on the ground were unable to communicate with firefighters in
the World Trade Center. Many were unable to evacuate.
Phillips said her department is concentrating on improvement
and training and that she has already seen results since the summer.
"I don't know if I'll ever tell you we can't do better,"
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