City debuts shelter database

City officials unveiled a new internal database of 85 emergency shelters that could be used to find lodging for up to 40,000 San Franciscans — and their pets — in the event of a disaster.

The list of possible sites — including schools, recreation centers, places of worship and event facilities — is not accessible to the public, however. The information would only be released in the event of an emergency, said Annemarie Conroy, executive director of The City’s Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security.

“We would not want people self-referring to a shelter site,” said Conroy, who noted that some sites on the list might not be opened during a particular emergency if damage had been sustained at that site or other sites could accommodate those in need.

The City would publicize the open sites using the emergency broadcast system, which uses local radio and television stations to communicate information to the public, Conroy said. Once a shelter site was filled, she said, incoming residents would be directed to another available shelter.

Supervisor Fiona Ma told The Examiner that after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Indian Ocean rim countries in December 2004, she discovered that The City didn’t have an updated shelter list.

“People were calling my office, asking, if there was a tsunami, or other incident, where were they supposed to go?” Ma said. “I’m happy to hear now that they’ve fully done the investigation and hopeful they have gotten many sites around each of the districts.”

At a presentation of the new shelter database for the media on Tuesday, OESHS officials showed how sites could be looked up to accommodate residents in certain districts, as well as those with disability needs or pets.

“People stay in dangerous situations if they can’t evacuate their pets, we recognize that,” Conroy said, noting that more San Franciscans have pets than children.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, who attended the presentation, said The City was “trying to be a lot more sophisticated” by assigning those displaced by a disaster to a local shelter, rather than sending all citizens to one site, such as was done by New Orleans officials during Hurricane Katrina, when a shelter was set up in the downtown Superdome.

beslinger@examiner.com

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