Supervisors tackle Civil Grand Jury report critical
of San Francisco emergency preparedness
OES Executive Director Laura Phillips responds to Supervisors
San Francisco is unprepared for a catastophic event
at yesterday's Government and Audits Committee hearing.
By Daniel Powell
July 25, 2006
A few years ago, Supervisor Tom Ammiano approached an elderly
man wandering City Hall and asked if he needed help. The man said
that he was concerned about earthquakes, and was trying to find
out if the city's civil defense shelters from the '40s and '50s
were still in use.
"I knew enough to say that I doubted that," Ammiano
recounted. "But I didn't know where else to direct him."
Supervisor Tom Ammiano
The encounter highlighted for him one of the biggest problems
detailed in the civil grand jury's report on emergency preparedness:
educating residents on what to do and where to go in the event
of a major disaster.
The report, released in May, paints a grim picture of the city's
readiness to administer emergency medical services to large numbers
of people injured in an earthquake or terrorist attack. Many of
those interviewed by the grand jury believe that a large-scale
incident could cause the system to "catastrophically fail"
within 30 minutes, as swarms of "walking wounded" flood
emergency rooms around the city, cutting off care to the seriously
At Monday's Government Audit and Oversight Committee meeting,
grand jury member Joan Trauner told Ammiano, along with supervisors
Aaron Peskin and Michela Alioto-Pier, that more public outreach
is necessary to avoid that scenario.
"Instead of inundating the ERs, there's an important need
for the city to identify alternative delivery sites, train personnel
and educate the public regarding their use," Trauner said.
Ideally, lightly wounded people would seek help at other care
sites, such as neighborhood clinics. Trauner stressed that the
expansion of public resources like the 72hours.org website were
essential to making this happen.
"We need the upgrading of the 72hours.org
website so that the public understands where and when they're
supposed to go for medical care, and what they're supposed to
do for self-sufficiency," Trauner said.
The supervisors also discussed the city's Neighborhood Emergency
Response Team Training Program, or NERT, and its role in softening
the impact of a major disaster. Begun by the San Francisco Fire
Department in 1990 after the Loma Prieta earthquake, the NERT
program trains community members in disaster and emergency response,
with over 11,000 residents taking part in the course so far.
"Your first responders are not going to be the first ones
showing up at your door," said Laura Phillips, executive
director of the Emergency Communications Department. "It's
going to be someone from your NERT program that's going to be
Alioto-Pier asked if NERT was receiving enough funding or attention.
"I'm concerned about it because it can alleviate some of
the pressures from hospitals," Alioto-Pier said, later detailing
an idea to put high school students through the training as a
way of ensuring that every community has a group of NERT members
Peskin expressed frustration at what he felt was "serious
resistance" from the Office of Emergency Services in releasing
funds allocated in May for disaster planning in the largely Cantonese-speaking
Chinatown neighborhood. He said the planning was necessary to
alleviate the "massive communication" problems that
surfaced among non-English speakers after the Loma Prieta earthquake.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin (right)
During the meeting, Ammiano and Peskin also voiced frustrations
that Annemarie Conroy, executive director of the Office of Emergency
Services, had taken the day off and was not available to answer
Wade Crowfoot, the mayor's liaison to the board, answered in
"The Chinatown model represents a different approach to
neighborhood disaster planning, but one that we are committed
to helping you fulfill," Crowfoot said. "I'm very confident
in a matter of weeks those resources can be allocated so that
we can engage in that program."
Controller Ed Harrington, Mayoral Legislative Aide Wade Crowfoot
and Supervisor Aaron Peskin sidebar on revellations of inadequate
City emergency preparedness.