Seventeen years ago, the San Francisco Bay Area was hit by the Loma Prieta earthquake. This week, the city has taken steps to increase the safety of inhabitants.

On Tuesday, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced the launch of AlertSF, a new aspect of the Emergency Alert system which sends text message alerts to mobile devices. Along with this, San Francisco's Disaster Council will be reviewing the Earthquake Response Plan Enhancement. This Enhancement supplements the city's existing Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) with catastrophic-earthquake specific response planning, input from all city departments, and data gathered from past urban earthquakes around the world.

To prepare this Enhancement, the San Francisco Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security (OES&HS) reviewed extensive research of after-action reports and lessons learned from large urban earthquakes, including, Loma Prieta, the Northridge earthquake of 1994, and the Hanshin-Awaji (Kobe) earthquakes in Japan in 1995. They used this data to identify challenges to earthquake response and disaster management.

"I'm proud of the work that we have done on earthquake preparedness," Newsom said. "Through our Citywide Emergency Operations Plan, which we updated last year for the first time in 10 years, we have a solid plan for how to respond to several kinds of disasters, including earthquakes. We are adding additional details -- an Earthquake Response Plan Enhancement -- for items above and beyond our existing plan. This is a dynamic, living document."

On Thursday, Newsom and Acting Director Amy Lee announced the formation of a new management unit -- the Structural Safety and Emergency Management Division (SSEM) -- within the city's Department of Building Inspection. The SSEM Division will implement new seismic safety programs, including the proposed automatic gas shut-off valve, the seismic risk reduction of soft/weak-story, open-front wood-frame buildings and the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research (PEER) Center Tall Buildings Initiative.

SSEM also will be responsible for ongoing programs, including the Emergency Management Program and the Building Occupancy Resumption Program (BORP). It will be DBI's liaison with other City departments including the Department of Public Works, the Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security, and the San Francisco Fire Department.

"As this week's headline news reminds us, we're in one of the world's most at-risk seismic zones," Newsom said. "That's why my Administration makes seismic safety and emergency response management one of our top priorities. With DBI's responsibilities for protecting and enforcing San Francisco's structural and life safety codes, this management decision strengthens the City's abilities to respond immediately and effectively when the next Big One occurs."

Gina M. Scott  |  Writer