Researchers in the emergency management field call urban emergency plans fantasies, since these rely on public transit, private cars, and even expertise and help that often doesn’t really exist. Up to 56% of urbanites don’t have cars, and often the remedies listed in crisis plans turn out not to exist. In fact, some evacuation orders have killed more people than the emergency did. Contra-flow for evacuations, with all roads leading out, has been called potentially life-threatening by researchers.
Where does San Francisco fit in?
San Francisco has two main emergency plans: the All-Hazards Strategic Plan and the Hazard Mitigation Plan.
The biggest strength of San Francisco’s All-Hazards Strategic Plan is the emphasis on a comprehensive training program for city workers, the use of volunteers, and social media.
But the All-Hazards Plan was last updated six years before it was most recently studied, and the plan has not followed the maintenance schedule set for it. Moreover, is anyone really safer as a result of reading San Francisco’s statements describing how the plan was developed or what the visions, missions, and guiding principles of it are? This doesn’t help anyone prepare for an emergency, but takes up about a quarter of the plan.
The Hazard Mitigation Plan is different. It’s newer than the All-Hazards Plan. But it has some of the same problems.
The Hazard Mitigation Plan is full of very general statements and is often overly preoccupied with semantics. The section on “seismic hazards,” for example, is mostly about distinguishing earthquakes from landslides and tsunamis. A brief history of the effect of those events on San Francisco follows. But no procedures could be found describing specifically what to do in the event of those emergencies. How does it help victims to be absolutely sure they are being swept away by a landslide versus a tsunami or earthquake?
It looks as if San Francisco’s plans were not intended for the general public. They offer hardly any information on individualized, micro-level measures that citizens can take to prepare themselves to deal with emergencies.
No city’s crisis plan is perfect. But a good plan can mean the
difference between a well-handled crisis and disaster which can
Some other cities’ emergency plans do have something serious to say — Boston’s climate change study, Kansas City’s dealing with pets, for whom residents will risk their lives, and Richmond, B.C.’s, links to great information on personal preparedness. These are just some of the elements that stand out and which could be duplicated by other cities.
If San Francisco or any other city lacks the money or time to write a better plan, the best advice from publicly available plans could be cut and pasted it into a better document.
No plan will ever be able to foresee every form disaster can take, so it’s important to be flexible and learn from the experiences of other cities. The main focus should be on useful, clear information for the average citizen.