SAN FRANCISCO'S OFFICE OF EMERGENCY SERVICES (10/31/12)
In 1989 San Francisco was visited by a major earthquake; the Loma Prieta earthquake - also known as the World Series earthquake. This great City did not have a working Command Center to deal with the calamity.
Today, we have a brand new Command Center and there is much talk emitting from this center named after former Rear Admiral John Bitoff. The Admiral was in charge of the Navy operations in the Bay Area in 1989. General Harrison was in charge of the Presidio of San Francisco in 1989 and I worked under him.
We all remember that time; that is those of us who were here and participated and found solutions; when our City was total paralyzed and large areas left to fend for their survival - with no help from the City and less from organizations like the Red Cross.
Some of us ordinary citizens - took command of large areas in the Tenderloin - one of San Francisco's worst hit areas; thousands of Senior Citizens stranded in their hotels - more Single Residency Occupancy (SRO) hotels. Elevators came to standstill and many indigents were vulnerable. First we had to produce security and immediately access the damage; but more take inventory of the people left to fend for themselves and take charge of the situation.
Those of us who had experience with logistics; others who were quick learners; put their best foot forward and made very good things happen. This City has no clue who they are; and these volunteers do not expect anything from our often self-centered City like the folks who today purport that they have a State of the Art - Command Center when they do not.
We really do not want to go into the politics of Ann-Marie Conroy who was appointed the Director but did not have any training less - certification. Much as we have some at the moment; bragging they are capable doing this and that; but time and time again; have been an utter failure.
Let us start with the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake- for days the City was left confused not knowing what to do; less to put in place some operation to aid those that were suffering and bring succor to the thousands that needed help.
After over a week to be exact ten days some of us went into action and took control of some areas. That was before we got the regular folks who were supposed to be in charge; come to the scene - only to find out that we had already done more than they could do; in the given circumstances.
The situation was precarious and abject pandemonium would have reigned supreme had "we the people" - not taken charge of the situation. To this day in many areas we do not have "block by block" - emergency plans. We have mostly arrogant White folks; and some minority sell outs; talk the talk but they have no experience. Much; the same situation as Ann-Marie Conroy - if not worse.
Weeks after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake tragedy; which registered 7.1 on the Reiter Scale; I found out that the Sixth U.S. Army and Presidio of San Francisco went into action and helped thousands all over the City and County of San Francisco and more in the Marina District. I was in the Tenderloin and the surround areas planning and helping.
The Mayor in place in San Francisco in 1989 was Art Agnos - who was more astute, much more experienced, and practical than the Mayors who have come after him. The only problem there was not functioning Command Center, less a communication system that was state of the art. Most importantly there was a lot of talk, even now about Emergency Services; but few with qualified training.
About one month after the 1989 earthquake - I was ordered to gather at the Main Post by the Flag Pole next to the Presidio Officer's Club and told to come dressed up. It was an order - so there is not much you can do in the military - I wondered a lot, why - but truly had not idea - what was going to happen.
My office overlooked the Presidio Parade Ground and I saw on that given date I was called to come by the Presidio Flag Pole; the area by the Flag Pole was all decked up and it seemed there was some ceremony of a sort going to take place. I did not have a clue - and those who knew about it - kept the secret so well - and did not say anything to me.
Half an hour before the appointed time I assembled before the Flag Pole and saw these men mostly men I recall; with red jackets ñ the Army Corps of Engineers. I also saw some engineers from the Directorate of Engineering and Housing - I saw some other prominent people who I knew by face. As far as I can remember I did not see any personnel or officers from the U.S. Navy.
Some Army Officer approached me and told me where to stand and that I would be honored for my work. I worked hard at my job at the Presidio and many acknowledged my work; I truly love by work but this mystery at hand still had me guessing.
Then; at the appointed them I saw the Post General, General Harrison who knew me, the General greeted me and I greeted him. Then; I saw the team with the Army Colors assemble. Then I saw Mayor Art Agnos and some other dignitaries. I knew this was something special; but wait until I found out what it was. One; of the most memorable days in my life.
The Army has standards; very high standards and I was most proud when I worked for Sixth U.S. Army and Presidio of San Francisco. For some reason after I saw General Harrison; I felt comfortable because a couple of days before this day; I had spoken to him about the 1989 earthquake; when he approached me and said "bravo" - and that he was proud of me; and what I had done. I also remember being queried by my good friend Mayor Gil Delcid about my role in the Tenderloin Area and the assistance provided to the vulnerable; not knowing at that time that the detail information, I had passed to him; was given to the General that led to this Commander's Award.
The ceremony began with Sixth U.S. Army and Presidio of San Francisco band in attendance; a solemn occasion - and the Master of Ceremonies announcing the names of the dignitaries. It was announced that those assembled in the front row ñ would be honored for their exemplary dedication to helping the victims of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.
It then struck me so suddenly; I was going to be given some praise but never, ever thought some prominent award and medal. At this ceremony I was given the Commander's Award - the highest award a civilian could get from the Command Post at the Presidio. I was no honored and to this day I feel blessed.
Later I would get another award; higher than this but that came from the higher Command and with a commendation from Washington DC. I always feel; I have a special connection to San Francisco. That is why I participate; unlike the many sell outs; who always are looking for way to make money; and we have thousands that earn more than $175,000 a year; and do not care about our great City and County of San Francisco.
Nothing much has changed to our current Emergency Command Center; we do have a center; but; incompetent folks who have been caught with the pants down and their hands in the cookie jar; again and again.
All this happened in 1989 and it is now 2012 and given the knowledge we have of what happen in 1989, and what happened years later at One California and the massacre of some innocent people at the hands of a fanatic with machine guns.
The oil spill linked to the Cosco Busan ship; the then Mayor, Gavin Newsom out of town and some lackey not knowing how to respond. The many gridlock situations on our road; Market Street, Third Street by Market. 9th Street by Market. Gridlock on Van Ness Avenue; on 19th Avenue and on Mission Street and elsewhere; the folks see it but are paralyzed and cannot do anything but make sordid; excuses.
The many riots that have taken place with little practical assistance from any Command Center; including two recently and more to follow after this article - we hear a lot of talk from the Command Center - and but NO practical - action.
Had our City and County of San Francisco Command Center been worth the salt we could have help the constituents of San Bruno with the large Pacific Gas and Electric fire. We did not. I could state more; but it would only expose the vulnerability of the City's Command Post; more since 9/11 when the rules of engagement have changed. Tons of hot air; and little practical use of a Command Center that has personnel that lack in the basic - training.
Politics and corruption in this City has chosen the Press and Spin to project a false image and this City will fall on its face soon with a calamity for which we are not prepared. This is your clarion call.