Something New in Mobile Alerts: CMAS

We are happy to announce that the City of San Francisco now has the ability to alert San Francisco residents by using the Commercial Mobile Alert System.

What is CMAS?

CMAS is a the system interface to the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) service that wireless carriers are rolling out across the United States this year. CMAS is a partnership between FEMA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and U.S. wireless carriers. It is designed to enhance public safety by providing mobile alerts in three basic areas, including: Presidential Alerts; Amber Alerts and Imminent Safety Threats, such as shelter-in-place, evacuation, Tsunamis and severe weather alerts.

Will I automatically receive CMAS alerts?

Yes, you will and so will anyone living, working or visiting San Francisco when an alert is issued. CMAS is a geographically based system and is now available on ALL major wireless carriers. Not all mobile phone models have the ability to receive notifications. Newer mobile models have the capabilities built directly into the phone.

How will I know when I receive an alert?

These automatic alerts have their own ringtone and vibration to let you know when an alert has arrived. It is unique from the alert you’ve set up for text messages. Alerts will automatically “pop up” on your screen and will be limited to 90 characters.

Due to the limited character amount, when you receive an alert the best thing to do is tune in to another media source like a radio or TV for more information.

Keep an eye out for potential alerts and make sure to tell your friends and neighbors about this new way to receive emergency messages on your mobile device.

When Life Stands Still: 9/11 Reflections from Several DEM Staff Members

Most remember where we were and what we experienced the morning of September 11, 2001. For many it is the ‘JFK moment’ of our recent memories; a moment when life seems to stop, as we all divert our attention to one profound incident of collective significance.  In this em4SF blog, we commemorate the tragedy of 9/11 with several DEM staff members’ memories of that fateful morning 11 years ago.  And we ask you: what did you experience on 9/11?


Aram L. Bronston EMT-P, DEM Pre-hospital Coordinator, Emergency Medical Services

I had just woken up and was getting ready for school.  I turned the television on and saw footage of the North Tower burning out of control.  I figured that it was footage from an upcoming “Die Hard” movie because there was no way that what I was seeing could be the news.  Just then, the second airplane slammed into the South Tower.  I heard Peter Jennings curse on live television and I knew immediately that the whole world had just been thrown upside down.  I went to my History class and we all sat  watching the television coverage in complete shock.  About 20 minutes into class, I received a call that my cousin had narrowly escaped the North Tower before it collapsed, but five minutes later  I got the call that my brother had been scheduled to be on Flight 11 from Logan Airport that crashed into the North Tower.  For the next two days, I believed that my brother had been killed, but by an amazing twist of fate he had given up his seat because the flight was overbooked.  He had been unable to contact anyone due to phone services being overwhelmed, but was safe in Boston waiting for air services to be reinstated so he could return to his family.  It was a time filled with some of the worst lows, and best highs, of my life.

 Dr. John Brown, Medical Director, DEM Emergency Medical Services

I was getting ready for work at the EMS Agency on the morning of 9/11/01. I was up early as this was the date of the anniversary of my dad’s death a year earlier (9/11/00) and was planning on attending mass that I was having dedicated to him. The EMS Administrator, Michael Petrie, called me just as I stepped out of the shower and asked me if my TV was on—I said no, so he told me to turn it on and call him back. At that time the first tower had been hit and there was confusion if it was a plane crash or an explosion. Then as I watched the second tower was struck and I knew that we would be in for a long day. I called the church and had them switch the dedication of the mass to the victims, finished dressing and packed my “go bag”. I watched the first tower collapse, while simultaneously feeling overcome with grief (knowing that there were likely many people still in the first tower). I left directly for the EOC (Mike had already activated our phone tree) and met the staff there, where we queried hospital preparedness for casualties, moved all system ambulances that were not occupied with 911 calls to standby status, and worked with DEM staff on multiple issues, mainly dealing with health care resource preparation. The biggest problem we had was the decision to close the schools, which meant many parents had to leave to pick up their children, negatively affecting the hospital staffing. In all, though, I thought we had a good response—about 70 ambulances on standby, over 160 critical care beds available, and somewhere around 600 hospital beds identified for rapid availability if the need arose (all of this before noon on that day). Focus shifted to supporting SFO with all of the stranded travelers that were there with the air space closure and law enforcement/infrastructure protection activities. By that evening we moved to 12 hour shifts and the EOC remained open for several days in a “watch and wait” status. I remember being very tired, but very proud that we had a cohesive response, that we had a DEC/EOC that was “cutting edge”, that we had an inter-agency public safety communications system that worked well during the event, and that we had exercised our capabilities prior and had some plans and training to rely on.

Kristin Hogan, DEM Strategic Communications Planner

I was on a business trip in Salt Lake City, Utah and scheduled to return home to Northern Virginia the morning of September 11, 2001. I was focused on getting ready for my return trip before I turned on the television. When I did, I remember seeing the first tower in flames and as I was processing what I was seeing, saw the second plane hit. Foolishly, I thought I was still going to be leaving and was rushing to zip up my suitcase. I called my co-worker who was on the same flight home and with whom I was sharing a cab to the airport. He laughed at my naiveté and said coolly, “we aren’t going anywhere.”   Then I started to think about my sister who had just moved to New York City and called her to be taunted by a busy signal; next  were calls to my father, mother, brother, sister, friends, neighbors–just about anyone I could think of– in Northern Virginia to be confused by a “all phone lines are down due to a tornado” message.  My only successful call was to my grandfather in Rochester, NY, who became my out-of-state contact (before I ever knew the importance of identifying someone to call in the event of an emergency). And then the plane crashed into the Pentagon, where many friends and some family worked, including an aunt and uncle.  This was the first time I experienced apocalyptic-like fear; a feeling that life as I…we… knew it was at risk.

Thankfully, I knew no one who died. I was eventually able to contact my parents who as it turned out had a panic-stricken morning because they thought I was on a United flight destined for Washington, DC.  It took many days for me to be re-booked on a flight, but after an additional week in Salt Lake City, I finally returned home to a very somber, yet bonded and patriotic DC metropolitan area.

Stephen La Plante, DEM Emergency Medical Services Administrator

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was awakened by a phone call from a former employee from when I was running the Hospital Police for the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH).  I immediately turned on the television to watch the coverage.  After seeing the second plane rip into the second tower, I quickly prepared for work and headed straight for the DPH Operations Center (DOC) at their headquarters building.

Within the hour, 15-20 people had arrived and we began getting organized, under the leadership of a woman executive who is now the Director of Health, Barbara Garcia.  It was decided that the group would be split in two so that the DOC could be staffed overnight.  I was naturally selected for the Night Team.  I went home ostensibly to get some sleep.

At home, all I could do was lie on the couch crying while watching CNN, which I did all day and into the night until I went back to staff the overnight shift at the DOC.  The night was completely uneventful.  It was a day that I will always remember as well as I remember the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Jim Turner, DEM Private Sector Liaison

On the day of September 11, 2001, I was getting ready for work and engaged in a heated discussion with my first wife when she noticed something strange on TV.  We watched the whole thing unfold until the towers finally fell.  We had just moved from New York to Los Angeles, so we spent the whole time considering if we knew anybody who worked in or near the towers.  Even though years ago I had done some training at a firm that had been in the towers, we thankfully did not know anybody.  What is more auspicious is three years later on September 11, 2004 I married my second and current wife in Topanga Canyon Park near Los Angeles.  It was a beautiful day filled with the love of friends, a potluck, and fond memories.  We truly feel as if we brought some much needed love to the day.

Diana Vanderburg, DEM Special Events Planner

On September 11, 2001, I was working for a helicopter company in Skagway, Alaska as a glacier guide.  We awoke to the news on the TV and all flights were grounded.  What was difficult was that we were in the middle of operations to take our Dog Camp off of a high ice field.  Without support, supplies of food and water, they were stranded.  We attempted to continue operations, but were shut down by NORAD.  Alaskans were in a difficult situation as a lot of hunters and people who live in the wilderness rely on re-supply by air and those missions were shut down.  At the same time, there was a plane that was circling over the nearest large airport located in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.  They weren’t responding to communications and there was some panic – but it finally responded and landed as it was running out of fuel.  The people on the plane had to be housed in Whitehorse and bused out.  Big drama for our little neck of the world!

EMS: More Than a Job. It’s a Calling.

As we close this year’s National Emergency Medical Services (EMS) week, DEM wants to highlight the recipients of the 14th Annual EMS Agency and SF Paramedic Association Award Program. Aligning with this year’s National EMS Week theme, EMS: more than a job. It’s a calling, the recipients of this year’s EMS Awards were honored for their dedication and commitment to the field of emergency medical services and those they aid. They are SF Heroes and we are happy to recognize them in this DEM Blog.

Who Was Honored and Why

EMS Field Providers Award Firefighter Anthony Valerio, EMT-P and Lt. Vincent Perez, EMT-1 received these awards posthumously for many years of outstanding performance as a paramedic, as an EMT and for extraordinary bravery as firefighters in the San Francisco Fire Department. On June 2, 2012, Anthony and Vincent lost their lives in the line of duty fighting a fire in Diamond Heights.

The parents of Anthony Valerio accepting his award.

Lt. Vincent Perez’s family accepting his award.

EMS Hospital Provider Award Terry Dentoni, RN, MSN with San Francisco General Hospital received this award for outstanding performance in providing more than 25 years of emergency and critical care nursing at SF General Hospital, and for creative and energetic support of satellite sobering centers at special events.

Terry Dentoni (left) accepting her award from San Francisco Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia.

EMS Community Services Award was given to Elaine Rodahl, RN for her leadership in promoting and teaching CPR to thousands of people, and for her tireless work with the American Heart Association to improve the survival rate from cardiac arrest in the Bay Area.

Elaine Rodahl accepting her award.

EMS Dispatcher Ulysses J. Levy, EMD received this award his 18 years of outstanding performance as a dispatcher, especially for his extraordinary skill in handling stressful medical calls in a calm and professional manner, as he did in November, 2011 when he assisted a father in the delivery of his baby. The family Ulysses helped was in attendance to the surprise of Ulysses, as was the paramedic who arrived on-scene to provide emergency medical care to the mother and newborn.

EMS Dispatcher Ulysses J. Levy holding the infant he assisted to deliver.

Paramedic Captain James M. Fazackerley, EMT-P, SFFD received the Raymond Lim Excellence in EMS for exceptional performance as a paramedic instructor, supervisor and manager for 29 years and for leadership and innovation in emergency medical services.

Captain James M. Fazackerley accepting his award.

The Special Recognition Award went to Willie Orey, Jr, EMT-1, AMR posthumously for years of outstanding performance as a unit detailer, stocker and EMT, and for several years of service as a CCT-EMT for San Francisco Ambulance.

Willie Orey’s family accepting his award.

Congratulations to all of the award recipients. You are the REAL San Francisco Heroes!

SF Hero: 9-1-1 Dispatcher of the Year Stephen Golden

During last week’s San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting at City Hall, 9-1-1 Dispatcher Stephen Golden received a commendation for being DEM’s Dispatcher of the Year.   Stephen was selected for this honor based on his outstanding work during a 9-1-1 call from a visitor to San Francisco, who needed to send medical aid to her family residence in Columbia, Maryland.  The caller explained she was visiting San Francisco to speak at a symposium and that when she called home, her three year old son answered the phone and told her his father was lying on the floor in the closet.  She also had a one year old son at home.

Stephen accepting his commendation presented by SF Board of Supervisors President, David Chiu.

Stephen made attempts to locate a telephone number to notify Emergency Services in Columbia, but to no avail. He asked the caller to tell him the largest nearby city, and she said Baltimore.  Stephen continued to gather information from the caller, including her home address, husband’s name, neighbor contact information and even where a spare key to her   home could be found.  The neighbor and Baltimore Emergency Services were able to go the caller’s home and respond to the situation.

Stephen also asked the caller if she had a work colleague traveling with her, which she did, and Stephen was able to contact the colleague who could be with her.  “I believe that contacting the colleague was particularly important,” said Stephen while accepting his commendation.  “No one should be told of a loved one’s death, then be alone.”

Stephen sharing his account of the 9-1-1 call to the SF Board of Supervisors.

Emergency Services in Maryland ultimately confirmed that the caller’s husband had passed away, but both children were fine. Stephen remained on the phone with the caller for 39 minutes (well exceeding the average 9-1-1 call length of two minutes), providing comfort and solace. “I stayed with my caller because I sensed what was coming,” Stephen shared with the Board of Supervisors during the meeting.

Although the outcome of this 9-1-1 call was tragic, it was Stephen’s focused and effective work that sent emergency services to the caller’s home on the other side of the country, while at the same time providing compassion and support to the distressed caller.

Stephen pictured with DEM Division of Emergency Communications Director, Lisa Hoffman

About the DEM 9-1-1 Call Center

DEM serves as the 9-1-1 call center for Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services. The center handles approximately 1 million calls annually. Of these calls, 80 percent are for police matters, 14 percent are for emergency medical Services, and 6% are for fire suppression. Seventy percent of the 9-1-1 calls DEM receives are from cellular phones. In 2000, DEM became the first agency in California to accept wireless calls, instead of receiving transfers from the California Highway Patrol (CHP).

The center is the third busiest Public Safety Answering Point in California, behind Los Angeles and San Diego (not including CHP call centers). The average answering time for 9-1-1 calls is three seconds. DEM has the ability to translate calls into 173 different languages and dialects; Spanish and Cantonese are the top two most commonly translated languages.