For Safety’s Sake…Think Again

We often assume the police, fire, EMS, mayor, and other first responders are fulfilling their duties to keep us safe.

 

But according to my studies of plans from the top 100 English-speaking cities in the world, this isn’t always the case.

 

Many of our cities are in danger from their own emergency plans which sometimes feature pages of jargon, acronyms, missing appendices, irrelevant lists of contributors, and wishful thinking.

 

Researchers in the field call them “fantasy plans,” relying 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 emphases 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 I studied it, and the plan has not followed the maintenance schedule set for it. Moreover, when I studied it, I found myself wondering whether anyone is 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. It’s hard to see how these help anyone prepare for an emergency, but they take up about a quarter of the plan.

 

The Hazard Mitigation Plan is different. It’s newer that 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 definitions. 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 I could find no procedures describing specifically what to do in the even 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 though 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 cost lives.

 

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 paste it into a better document than is on most websites in North America.

 

Some of the plans, including San Francisco’s may have been updated in the months since I read them. 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.  But the main focus should be on useful, clear information for the average citizen.  

Today in History: July 12th

1995:  A heat advisory is issued in Chicago, warning of a record-breaking heat wave. By the time the heat breaks a week later, nearly 1,000 people are killed. Record high use of air conditioning caused some power failures. People opened so many hydrants to cool themselves off that water pressure was lost. The heat warped train rails, causing delays for commuters.

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1990: Just two days after Mikhail Gorbachev is re-elected head of the Soviet Communist Party, Boris Yeltsin, president of the Republic of Russia, announces his resignation from the Party. Yeltsin’s action was a serious blow to Gorbachev’s efforts to keep the struggling Soviet Union together.

1960: Louis Robichaud is sworn in as Premier of New Brunswick, replacing Hugh John Flemming.

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Today in History: July 9th

2010: Prime Minister Stephen Harper appoints legal scholar David Johnston the next governor general.

1991: In St. Lazare, Manitoba, 400 residents flee their homes when a train carrying highly corrosive acetic anhydride derails. The emergency evacuation ends after six days. For more on Crisis Management:Click Here

1960: President Dwight Eisenhower and and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev trade verbal threats over the future of Cuba. The relationship between the United States and Cuba deteriorated rapidly after this exchange. The Castro regime accelerated its program of expropriating American-owned property. In response, the Eisenhower administration severed diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Today in History: July 5th

1998: Japan launches a probe to Mars, joining the U.S. and Russia as a space exploring nation.

1971: President Richard Nixon formally certifies the 26th Amendment, which lowers the voting age in the U.S. from 21 to 18 years. To learn more: Click Here

1970: An Air Canada DC-8 going from Montreal to Los Angeles makes a heavy landing at Malton Airport in Toronto, bounces and loses one engine. As the pilot tries to take off and land again, another engine falls off and the airplane crashes, killing all 109 people on board.

Today in History: July 3rd

1970:  A British airplane crashes into the sea near Barcelona, Spain, killing all 112 people on board. As the plane approached Barcelona, the pilot called the air-traffic controller and said he was 12 miles away. This was the last anyone heard from the jet.  The remains of the wreckage provided no clues as to the cause of the sudden crash.

1958: President Dwight Eisenhower signs the Rivers and Harbors Flood Control Bill, which allocates funds to improve flood-control and water-storage systems. The bill was introduced in the wake of disastrous and deadly floods caused by Hurricanes Connie and Diane.

1957:  Nikita Khrushchev takes control in the Soviet Union by orchestrating the ouster of his most serious opponents from positions of authority in the Soviet government. Khrushchev’s action delighted the U.S., which viewed him as a more moderate figure in the communist government of Russia.

Today in History: July 1st

2002: A Russian passenger plane with 69 passengers and crew collides in the air over Germany with cargo plane with a crew of two, killing all 71 people on both planes. As they approached each other, an automated system told one pilot to go up, and the other to go down. However, a Swiss air-traffic controller ordered both pilots to descend.

1958:  CBC starts nationwide TV broadcasting as new Trans-Canada microwave relay system goes into operation.

1867: The British North America Act creates the Dominion of Canada, uniting the British colonies of the Province of Canada (now Ontario and Quebec), the Province of New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

Political Conventions – Happy 43rd Birthday, America

Today in History: June 29th

1995: A department store in Seoul, South Korea, collapses, killing more than 500 people. The tragedy occurs due to a series of errors made by the designers and contractors who built the store and the criminal negligence of the store’s owner. Rescue efforts continue for weeks and one survivor is pulled out 16 days after the collapse.

1995: The American space shuttle Atlantis docks with the Russian space station Mir to form the largest man-made satellite ever to orbit the Earth. This was an historic moment of cooperation between former rival space programs. Daniel Goldin, chief of NASA, called it the beginning of “a new era of friendship and cooperation” between the U.S. and Russia.

1974: With Argentine President Juan Peron on his deathbed, Isabela Martinez de Peron, his wife and vice president, is sworn in as the leader of the South American country. President Isabela Peron, a former dancer and Peron’s third wife, was the Western Hemisphere’s first female head of government.

Today in History: June 19th

1992: Soviet President Boris Yeltsin visits Ottawa and signs a $200 million wheat deal to tide Russia over until fall harvest. He tells Parliament the Soviet Union has embraced democracy.

1959: A severe storm beings in the Northumberland Strait off the coast of New Brunswick and sinks 50 fishing boats and drowns 35 fishermen.

1938: A flood in Montana washes out train tracks, killing 46 people and seriously injuring more than 60. A pitch-black night on the Great Plains makes rescue efforts extremely difficult.

Today in History: June 18th

1985: Ontario Conservative Premier Frank Miller is defeated on a series of confidence votes by an alliance of David Peterson’s Liberals and Bob Rae’s NDP. Miller resigns the next day, ending 42 years of Conservative rule in Ontario.

1979: During a summit meeting in Vienna, President Jimmy Carter  and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev sign the SALT-II agreement, dealing with limitations and guidelines for nuclear weapons. SALT-II thus remained signed, but unratified.

1972: A jetliner crashes after takeoff from Heathrow Airport in London, killing 118 people. Just after its wheels retracted after takeoff, it fell from the sky. An intense fireball from the plane’s fuel supply erupted. The official cause of this accident remains unknown, but it may have happened simply because the plane was carrying too much weight.

Today in History: June 16th

1984: John Turner is chosen as Liberal Party leader on second ballot, with 1,862 votes, to Jean Chretien’s 1,368. Turner is sworn in to replace retiring Pierre Trudeau as Prime Minister on June 30, but loses the September election to Brian Mulroney and the Conservatives.

1963: For the first time, a woman travels in space. She’s Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. After 48 orbits and 71 hours, she returned to earth, having spent more time in space than all U.S. astronauts combined to that date. The first American woman in space was Sally Ride on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983.

1896: A tsunami in Japan overnight leaves about 25,000 people dead. Entire villages all along the coast are washed away. Fishermen who were working at sea and people living several miles inland, though, had no clue about the destruction until the following morning, when they arrived at the shore to find miles of the coast lined with wreckage and corpses.