In the past few months, we have witnessed the unimaginable devastation caused by catastrophic earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, and the destruction brought on by the ensuing tsunami has been overwhelming. Our thoughts and prayers are with those whose lives have been impacted by this tragedy, which is an all too clear reminder of our region’s vulnerability and the need to continue preparations for the next major earthquake.
The question is when, not if, there will be another event like the Loma Prieta earthquake that shook San Francisco in 1989, and this year marks the 105th anniversary of the 1906 great earthquake and fire. These historic moments and the jarring reality of recent events provide an opportunity to reinvigorate our commitment to a culture of preparedness that will greatly improve our abilities to save lives during any natural disaster.
Since 1989, almost 200 of our city’s buildings and facilities have been seismically retrofitted to improve their performance and the safety of the public. This includes facilities that house our first responders and will allow The City to continue to provide uninterrupted emergency services and vital resources like water and electricity after a
disaster or earthquake. In my previous role as city administrator, I worked with PG&E to ensure the reliability of The City’s gas and electric infrastructure, and I oversaw The City’s disaster recovery and response planning efforts, bringing every department together to coordinate response and recovery for the next major emergency.
We’ve made great progress in recent years by seismically upgrading our hospitals, our water system and our critical infrastructure, but we also need to make sure that every single family has a plan. Being prepared isn’t necessarily a one-time checklist of tasks. It should be a part of our everyday lives, whether we are creating a family emergency plan around the dinner table or picking up essential items on our next grocery trip.
There are myriad resources available to help you prepare, including The City’s award-winning website, www.72hours.org. You can also call 3-1-1 to request emergency preparedness brochures, and the Department of Emergency Management’s www.quakequizsf.org tests your knowledge of what to do if an earthquake strikes, no matter where you are. In an emergency, many alerting tools can aid us, including The City’s Outdoor Public Warning siren system, Emergency Alert System messages broadcast on radio and television stations, and AlertSF, a text-based message system that delivers emergency information to cell phones and other text-enabled devices, as well as email accounts. If you live in San Francisco and have not yet registered for AlertSF, I urge you to sign up at www.alertsf.org.
While the people of Japan are foremost in our thoughts, we are also taking these events as a stark reminder of our own need to be better prepared and more resilient as a community and a city.
Edwin M. Lee is the mayor of San Francisco.