High-rises in downtown San Francisco were obscured by unhealthy air by smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (Eric Pratt/SF Weekly)

City to develop plans for future air quality emergencies after November fire

Mayor London Breed on Friday ordered city staff to develop plans to respond to dangerously bad air quality in the wake of November’s deadly Camp Fire.

Breed, who announced the directive during a Friday Disaster Council meeting, said San Francisco has long prepared for earthquakes but is experiencing unanticipated challenges such as the heat wave last year and most recently the poor air quality from Northern California fires last month that plagued The City for 13 days.

“Climate change is real,” Breed told the council. “It is important to make sure that we are prepared for anything.”

She added, “We have work to do.”

Breed said the directive calls on the Department of Public Health and the Department of Emergency Services to “co-lead the revision of our plan for poor air quality incidents.”

The directive also orders DEM’s director Mary Ellen Carroll to provide recommendations on locations “of facilities that can be utilized for public respite during poor air quality events and other weather-related events.”

Breed is also ordering DEM to establish a “roster of civilian multi-agency personnel of various disciplines that can be pre-positioned or rapidly deployed to areas in anticipation of the widespread impacts,” and for both agencies to improve communication and outreach.

“We want to improve our communication strategies,” Breed said. “We all know that not everyone is on the internet and not everyone is on Twitter. I want to make sure we are reaching out to many of our vulnerable populations.”

While there was some criticism about the lack of outreach or the failure to hand out more respirators, Breed said city departments responded well to the recent dangerous level of air quality.

“We have had great responses with our many departments,” Breed said. “I am really glad that it did not result in any serious injuries or major emergency situations. But we want to make sure that we are prepared for anything.”

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