San Francisco officials woke up to two emergency calls on Wednesday: a planned phone call that was intended to cold start a mock earthquake exercise at 5:13 a.m., but also a surprise call at about 4:44 a.m. to announce an actual emergency — a tsunami headed toward the Pacific coast, generated by a powerful earthquake in Japan.
In just over an hour, more than 200 public safety leaders and city department heads filled San Francisco’s Emergency Operations Center, and began handling the simulated emergency — a 7.9 temblor, similar in size to the one that ravaged The City in 1906. Coordinating with state and federal agencies, as well as other Bay Area counties, the emergency response team handled simulated 911calls and set up responses to the myriad fire, health, housing, law enforcement and other safety needs.
Under the scenario, 37,000 buildings and 5,000 lives were immediately lost, all major bridges were shut down and several hospitals had to be shut down due to structural damage.
On the third floor of San Francisco’s operations center, The City’s policy group met, with “Commander Newsom” at the head of the table, to make the split decisions about such issues as emergency response priorities, said Laura Phillips, executive director of San Francisco’s Office of Emergency Communications.
“If you had to let a part of The City burn, if you had to make some of those tough decisions, that’s what the policy group does,” Phillips said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was on hand in San Francisco on Thursday morning as the two-day drill in the Bay Area wrapped up a series of large-scale emergency preparedness exercises statewide, which also included a terrorist attack in San Bernardino County and a shelter exercise in the Fresno region.
Altogether, more than 1,500 participants, representing 105 local, state and federal agencies, participated in the state’s “Golden Guardian” exercise program, which cost $3.4 million this year.
“Every time we exercise, we know that we’ll be able to save more lives, that’s what it’s all about,” said Schwarzenegger, who met with Newsom in San Francisco on Thursday to witness fire exercises conducted on Treasure Island. “We all know that in California we are faced with all kinds of potential disasters: earthquakes, floods, mudslides, potential terrorist attacks, pandemic flu, tsunamis.”
Schwarzenegger added that it was equally important for citizens to prepare for emergencies, a point that Newsom underscored.
“It’s one thing we have these regional plans and partnerships between agencies, but the reality is you’re going to be on your own for 72 hours,” Newsom said. “If you think we exaggerate, just look at what happened at Katrina.”