City aims to improve response to disasters

A Coast Guard representative joined Mayor Gavin Newsom and other city officials Tuesday to examine what could be done to prevent some of the communication and cleanup problems that resulted last month after a container ship sideswiped the Bay Bridge and dumped 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the Bay.

At a meeting of The City’s Disaster Council, city officials also discussed recommendations they are pursuing to be better informed in the event of another maritime disaster, more involved in any response and with a robust system of volunteers at their bidding should it be required.

At the forefront of the recommendations was better communications with local authorities. City officials, including the mayor, were not notified until more than 12 hours after the Nov. 7 incident that the spill was 58,000 gallons, not 140, as originally reported.

The U.S. Coast Guard has taken the brunt of criticism in the spill’s response for failing to notify local authorities but, according to the City Emergency Management Department, the state Office of Emergency Services is required to make the appropriate notifications.

In the case of the Cosco Busan fuel spill, the first calls of notification went to the Oakland Fire Department because state OES was informed that the spill occurred near the Bay Bridge on the Oakland side, said Frank McCarton, chief deputy director of state OES.

“What we believe did occur: The Coast Guard did its job in communicating with state OES, but state OES did not do its job in communicating with the local and regional authorities,” Newsom said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Newsom said it was the second time miscommunication occurred, noting the 2005 incident when a state-issued tsunami warning generated uneven responses along the coast.

“This is something that must be addressed, and we cannot allow for a third time for this to happen,” the mayor said.

While miscommunication on Nov. 7 was a major focus of The City’s preliminary recommendations, officialsalso hoped to revise protocols that left them on the outside looking in at the unified command directing clean-up response in the days following the incident.

Port of San Francisco Executive Director Monique Moyer said she hoped to incorporate harbor services and ferries into any plan. Moyer said she was receiving reports from ferry operators of oil spreading into Marin County by early afternoon on Nov. 7.

The City also hopes to develop a “comprehensive volunteer management program” to integrate future volunteers into a response plan after officials were surprised by the number of people coming forward to “pick up hazardous waste,” Phillips said.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Craig Bone said volunteer programs cannot always be relied upon in an emergency, but they can augment any response.

dsmith@examiner.com

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