Progressive Preparedness is so San Francisco

We believe in connection, not catastrophe.

Here’s the thing: actual emergencies look more like people coming together than cities falling apart. And people who are more connected fare better in times of crisis.

By building connections and preparing for emergencies before something happens to the city we love, we can act swiftly, safely, and efficiently. And we can get through that first 72 hours, as a community. This is what it means to prepare…progressively.

Please join us this fall as we take San Francisco on a new kind of preparedness journey— a journey that has no interest in a looming disaster as the reason to get prepared, but rather the peace of mind that comes from taking some simple steps to be better prepared in the face of any emergency—big or small. And the resilience that comes from being a part of a prepared and connected San Francisco community.

Check out our San Francisco Progressive Preparedness Manifesto video

What to look for from us this fall.

Throughout September and October we’ll be sharing progressive preparedness tips on our social media platforms (@em4sf and our DEM Facebook page).  We hope you’ll follow us, add these tips to your preparedness know-how, and share the info with your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues…anyone you care about.

We’ll also be sharing with you events and other opportunities to progressively prepare with with your San Francisco community—one of highlighted importance being the statewide earthquake drill: ShakeOut taking place October 17th at 10:17 am. We hope you participate (and get counted) by registering yourself, household and/or workplace via www.shakeout.org, where you can also learn more about the drop, cover and hold on drill along with other neat ways to progressively prepare for an earthquake.

Lastly, on October 17th, which also is the 24th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, we’ll be unveiling our progressive preparedness integration platform (yes, we’re sounding vague yet hopefully intriguing on purpose), so stay tuned!

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What is Resilience?

Last month Rob Dudgeon, DEM Deputy Director, visited Haifa, Israel [see his first blog about the trip Notes from the Field: Haifa, Israel]. In this second installment journaling his experience there, Rob shares his perspectives on the fundamental meaning of resilience through the lens of Haifa’s mayor who led his city’s resilience to the Second Lebanon war in 2006 when hundreds of rockets rained down on Haifa for a month.

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We talk about it all the time like it’s an unknown quantity. It’s not. People are naturally resilient and the evidence is right in front of us. In the past weeks I’ve had opportunities to see this in an up close and personal way. It’s not about disasters. It’s about the natural state of being that allows people to adapt and push through life’s adversities. Whether it’s the health of a family member, the end of a marriage or a tornado…often times the results are the same. We suddenly find ourselves in chaos, our world asunder, and all of our touch points suddenly absent. Or at least that’s how it feels.

City of Haifa's rooftops

City of Haifa’s rooftops

Remarkably, we don’t generally cease to exist when this happens. We do what we need to do: some need space and time to quietly make sense of it all; some reach out to trusted friends; and others immediately spring into action – doing anything and everything to right the boat.

On an individual basis we are resilient. We survive. We often thrive as we rebuild ourselves. The story of the Phoenix carries a lot of truth if you stop and think about it. As I write this I’m reflecting on a couple instances recently where people I care about very much are experiencing just that: rebirth, rebuilding, and recovery from adversity. I know that coming out the other end of the tunnel is a given. Because they are strong; they adapt; they are resilient.

Happy Haifa guy

So how does the resilience of the human spirit relate to resilience in terms of emergency management? Communities are people. In the mix of thinkers, talkers and action takers there is a crowd-sourced recipe for success. Even in the midst of war, unlikely networks and alliances emerge to help each other survive.  Communities recover together.  They adapt and forge ahead.

We spoke to the Mayor of Haifa about the rocket attacks his city withstood during the Second Lebanon war in 2006. For a month hundreds of rockets rained down on the neighborhoods injuring, killing and terrorizing the residents of Haifa. While watching the first rockets strike from the roof of a building all the while refusing to believe what he was seeing, the situation didn’t sink in until a veteran of the First Lebanon War convinced him the flames were from a Katoush rocket, not a wildfire. Within 15 minutes, he was onsite of where that rocket landed and from then on, going to the scene of every attack within minutes became his signature action; a sign of his personal resilience and a message of commitment to his city.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav greeting the visiting San Francisco Emergency Management Delegation.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav greeting the visiting San Francisco Emergency Management Delegation

He led from front, putting himself in harm’s way to do his part.  His role wasn’t to put out the fires or treat the injured; it was to be the face of Haifa. He connected with the residents.  He consoled the grieving, shared their anger and spread his message that the community was whole and could not be fractured. When their enemies warned Arab residents of Haifa to leave, the Mayor took the airwaves and appealed to them as well – pointing out that Haifa belonged to all of them. Most didn’t leave. He threw away any notion that his city would fail. He knew the only weapon the city had was unity and he made bold decisions to preserve it.

The San Francisco Emergency Management Delegation and San Francisco-Haifa Sister City Committee members.

The San Francisco Emergency Management Delegation and San Francisco-Haifa Sister City Committee members

To get recovery moving the Mayor set up a line of credit for the city. On his own authority he arranged $20 million with a phone call. His advice to us? Don’t wait for the government. Do it yourself.  He pushed recovery efforts to the point that the national government got upset with him because Haifa didn’t look “war torn” enough. It was hurting their PR efforts. His resilience led the way for the community to follow. Within a month of the end of hostilities things were largely back to normal.

In the neighborhoods and hospitals they adapted. They learned how to operate in that hostile environment. New techniques and processes grew from necessity, after all it’s not a great idea to triage in the hospital parking lot when the hospital is a target (but that’s probably another post). In the aftermath of the war Haifa has seen many changes – Rambam Hospital is building a 2000 bed surge space that’s protected. The city is investing in declining neighborhoods to bolster small business. And they have initiated programs to help people cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially children.

Resilience triumphs in Haifa.

Resilience triumphs in Haifa

At first blush one might easily classify the PTSD programs for kids as an Israeli problem, but I wouldn’t discount its applicability in the US too quickly. Luckily we don’t live with the threat of rockets from a hostile neighbor, but we’ve got plenty of violence affecting children every day in this country. Haifa accepts the reality that an attack is likely any time, any day, and they have adapted by proactively helping residents cope with it. It’s unlikely to change in the near future, so the best they can do is adapt and carry on.

We can find similar stories of adaptation and resilience everywhere if we just open ourselves to it. From the Red River floods to any hurricane, earthquake or tornado there are literally dozens of stories of communities coming together. In Boston, Connecticut, Colorado and New York the fires of violence do not destroy communities, instead they forge stronger bonds. We suffer together and we recover together. Resilience is part of us. It’s our natural state. Think about your own circumstances and I know you’ll find that you are too. I have and I am.

DEM Deputy Director and author of this EM4SF Blog, Rob Dudgeon feeling Haifa's resilience.

DEM Deputy Director and author of this EM4SF Blog, Rob Dudgeon feeling Haifa’s resilience

Notes from the Field: Haifa, Israel

Occasionally, staff members at the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (DEM) have an opportunity to travel abroad. They frequently write back with their observations. The following is the first of brief series of blogs journaling the experiences of DEM Deputy Director, Rob Dudgeon, who last week participated in a San Francisco emergency management delegation that visited Haifa, Israel.  The purpose of the visit: to exchange best practices on seismic strengthening programs, early warning systems, emergency preparedness and emergency management.

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As I sit in that strange place between here and there—that place that happens on airplanes when the cabin is dark in a simulated night but the sun outside is bright—I finally have time to reflect on the journey of which I am a part: Israel.

It’s been a few busy weeks since I was asked to join a group headed to Haifa. The ensuing weeks of chaos saw a statewide emergency exercise, the Bay to Breakers run, countless daily distractions and all the usual challenges of coordinating a trip overseas.  Somewhere in all of that we managed to develop a program for an all-day symposium on disasters.  Only now, as I fly over Europe, on the last leg of my journey have I been able to stop and think about the mission beyond the obvious and the opportunities before us.

Our delegation is an interesting cast of characters: San Francisco city officials representing public works, public health, and emergency management joined by the Chair of the Haifa Sister City Commission, the San Francisco Fleet Week Association and a world renowned orthopedic surgeon.  Each of us brings a unique perspective and diverse curiosities.  Some have been to Israel several times while for others it’s our first visit.

Why are we in Israel you may be asking yourself? It all started three years ago when Haifa’s Mayor Yahov, while on a tour of San Francisco City Hall, met San Francisco Department of Public Works Director of City Infrastructure and City Engineer, Fuad Sweiss. The two spent hours discussing building codes and infrastructure, and within days San Francisco received an invitation to visit Haifa and share knowledge.  And now here we are, quite literally on the eve of fulfilling that request.

Tomorrow we share what we know about disaster medicine, emergency management and infrastructure that is built to withstand earthquakes.  We’ll also talk about San Francisco’s unique partnership with the military and the San Francisco Fleet Week Association.

Haifa at Night

Haifa at Night

At first blush, I wondered why Haifa is asking us about disasters. If anything we should be asking them. I mean after all, they’ve seen more mass casualties and emergency events than I can count. Multiple wars and terrorist attacks force a society to live in a state of heightened readiness.  It’s an unfortunate reality of the world today. Building codes that include safe rooms for missile attacks; hospitals with huge surge capacity; and even a medical center with an underground garage that converts to a 2000 bed hospital are all part of daily life in Northern Israel.

Then I got to thinking—they’ve had years preparing for, practicing and ultimately experiencing acts of violence, but the damage done by terrorist attacks is localized to the specific targeted region. Infrastructure may be compromised in the surrounding areas but is generally restored relatively quickly. While the events and after effects are incredibly traumatic, they impact a small percentage of the region’s overall population. An earthquake, on the other hand, impacts wide swaths of a region and the second, third and fourth order effects can be felt globally if major economic or political centers are impacted. So, upon further analysis: there is indeed plenty to share.

Port of Haifa

Port of Haifa

Out of necessity Israel thinks of disaster response in terms of response and recovery to an act of violence; whereas, we spend our time thinking, studying and preparing for catastrophic events. In a few short hours we’ll meet and begin a journey of discovery that will undoubtedly make both cities more resilient. But for now, my new friends and I on the plane sit and doze while we fast forward 10 hours to Israeli time, trying to convince our bodies to ignore the blazing sun peeking under the cabin’s window shades.

Iron Dome standing watch above Haifa – stark reality of where we are and the lessons learned by the people here

Iron Dome standing watch above Haifa which serves as a stark reality of where we are and the lessons learned by the people who live here.

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More about the Author:

Rob HeadshotRob Dudgeon is a Deputy Director in San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management.  In this role he runs the Division of Emergency Services, which is responsible for coordinating the city’s multi-disciplinary response to emergencies, developing emergency plans, managing the city’s exercise program and building community resilience. For the past eight years the division has led the nation in changing the way emergency preparedness is messaged; engaging the whole community emergency management preparedness, response and recovery; and, embracing the power of social media to both build connections and to use during response operations. With three activation teams in rotation, the division is always ready to manage local emergencies or deploy to assist other jurisdictions, which they most recently did during Superstorm Sandy. 

The 107th San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration Photo Montage

We got up very early, we dressed in 1906 style, and we joined our fellow San Franciscans in commemorating one of the most significant natural disasters in California’s history. Please enjoy DEM’s photographs documenting our participation in an annual ritual filled with camaraderie and San Francisco pride.

Special note of appreciation, acknowledgment and thanks to Michael Mustacchi for photographing this special event.

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The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along Powell Street near Union Square.

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

The parade ends at historic John’s Grill with an annual Survivor’s Dinner. This year 1906 earthquake survivor Bill Del Monte was able to join the dinner festivities.

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

Mayor Brown pictured with 1906 earthquake survivor Bill Del Monte and fellow San Franciscans dedicated to commemorating the anniversary.

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

1906 earthquake survivor Bill Del Monte with San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

It turned out to be nothing, but a suspicious package reported near Lotta’s Fountain meant a change of venue to Union Square. But the master of ceremony Bob Sarlatte and the event organizers made sure the show went on.

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

A ceremony participant observing a minute of silence at the exact time the 1906 San Francisco earthquake occurred: 5:12 am.

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

A very loud siren kicks off the minute of silence.

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

Ceremony participants dedicated to keeping the tradition to commemorate the anniversary in 1906 period attire.

Ceremony participants dedicated to keeping the tradition to commemorate the anniversary in 1906 period attire.

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

From left to right: Supervisor London Breed, Supervisor  David Chiu, DEM Executive Director Anne Kronenberg, and Supervisor Scott Wiener giving remarks during the commemoration ceremony.

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White providing remarks on the disaster and its significance to San Francisco’s ability to respond and recover.

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

Mayor Lee shared comments about the City’s strength and what we are doing to promote San Francisco’s resilience.

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

From left to right Master of Ceremony Bob Sarlatte, Police Chief Greg Suhr, DEM Executive Director Anne Kronenberg, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and a ceremony dignitary.

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

DEM dressed for the occasion!

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Commemoration activities kick-off with a parade along

ShakeOut enthusiasts from southern California made the trip north to join the commemoration.

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White helping to give the Golden Hydrant, one of the only working hydrants durning the disaster that saved much of the Mission and surrounding areas from fire.

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White giving the Golden Hydrant a fresh coat of gold paint. This hydrant is significant because it was one of the only working hydrants during the disaster   and it saved much of the Mission and surrounding areas from fire.

15628__309HR ©Michael Mustacchi

Commemorating Connection–Not Catastrophe

April 18th marks the 107th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. Although very few of us have a first-hand memory of what remains one of California’s most significant catastrophes, every April many of us think about the what ifs with regard to earthquakes. 

The thing to keep in mind is that you are more prepared than you think!  If the power goes out, you have a flashlight handy, and you know who can pick up your kids if you get stuck at work then you’re prepared. You adapt and move on. By managing everyday life you already have what it takes. So take simple actions now to make life easier when an earthquake happens!

Actual emergencies look more like people coming together than communities falling apart. Being prepared is not just about getting our supplies together; it’s about knowing our neighbors, lending a hand, and sharing our knowledge and skills to help our community. San Francisco is full of creative, diverse, and visionary minds: we don’t need to look far to become a better prepared city.  We just need to look to each other.

So as we think about what happened to our fair city 107 years ago, let’s commemorate by taking stock of our resources, and then adding a little bit to that stock. If you have a manual can opener and a supply of canned food, you are more prepared than you think (did you know the fluid in your canned beans is a great hydrator?). And lastly, take the time to meet your neighbors – at home, at work, or through social networks. After all, these are the people we rely on everyday no matter the crisis!

Top 4 Resources for Emergency Preparedness Information

  • www.72hours.org:  everything you need to plan for just about any emergency.
  • www.alertsf.org:  be in the know about any emergency alerts, notifications and warnings impacting San Francisco by neighborhood via text message and/or email.
  • Twitter: For ongoing emergency information and preparedness tips, follow DEM on Twitter @sf_emergency (for emergency alerts) and @em4SF (for preparedness and resilience conversations).
  • www.sfheroes.com: the smart phone app that lets you test your preparedness know-how and earn superhero badges as you advance your emergency preparedness knowledge, skills, and abilities.

1906 Earthquake and Fire Commemoration Events:

April 18th: Lotta’s Fountain 1906 San Francisco Earthquake Commemoration Ceremony

 Join your fellow San Franciscans at 5:13 am at 3rd and Market Street as we gather around Lotta’s Fountain to mark the exact time of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

DEM dressed for last year's commemoration ceremony.

DEM dressed in 1906 attire during last year’s commemoration ceremony.

  • April 18th: Painting of the Golden Hydrant in Dolores Park

Following the Lotta’s Fountain commemoration ceremony, the gathering moves to Dolores Park to pay tribute to one of the only working fire hydrants during the fire that followed the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

The Golden Hydrant in Dolores Park, which gets a fresh coat of gold paint every April 18th to commemorate the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.

The Golden Hydrant in Dolores Park, which gets a fresh coat of gold paint every April 18th to commemorate the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.

  • April 20th: NERT Citywide Drill

Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) members from all over the city will meet to put their training into action in this three-hour drill. At the drill, NERT volunteers practice search and rescue techniques, triaging injured victims, setting up staging areas, and other essential disaster response skills.  The drill will take place 8:30 am to 12:30 pm at Everett Middle School Yard on 17th between Church and Sanchez. To learn more about NERT visit http://www.sfgov.org/sfnert.

Team DEM at the Dolores Park to observe (and a few of us to participate) in the golden hydrant painting ceremony.

Team DEM at the Dolores Park to observe (and a few of us to participate) in the Golden Hydrant painting ceremony.