New San Francisco Plan Aims to Create Efficiency in Regional Disaster Response

The agency’s board of directors adopted an update to its Emergency Response Plan designed to coordinate Bay Area water transportation operations in the event of a catastrophic event like an earthquake.

by Rachel Raskin-Zrihen, Times-Herald, Vallejo, Calif. / March 9, 2016

(TNS) - A new action plan should help the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) help the region better react to disasters, agency officials announced Tuesday.

The agency’s board of directors adopted an update to its Emergency Response Plan (ERP) designed to coordinate Bay Area water transportation operations in the event of a catastrophic event like an earthquake.

WETA was established by the state legislature to operate an integrated regional ferry service, expand ferry service on the Bay, and coordinate the water transit response to a regional emergency. Under the San Francisco Bay Ferry brand, WETA operates daily passenger ferry service to the cities of Vallejo, Alameda, Oakland, San Francisco and South San Francisco.

“The ERP identifies WETA’s roles and responsibilities as coordinator of ferry service in the immediate aftermath of an emergency and outlines operations of the WETA Emergency Operations Center,” according to a news release. “In addition, the ERP identifies several action items on which WETA will work with partner agencies to improve emergency preparedness. These include exploring vessel fueling options, securing funding for emergency ferry operations, and ensuring that vessel crews and support staff can get to their vessels in a timely manner.”

Ferries will provide vital transportation for first responders, disaster service workers and survivors after a regional seismic event, WETA Executive Director Nina Rannells said in the release. “The adoption of an update to WETA’s Emergency Response Plan marks an important step forward in defining WETA’s role in response to a regional disaster and identifies action items that WETA can and will act on now in anticipation of a regional emergency.”

Former Vallejo mayor Tony Intintoli has served on the WETA board since 2008 and was reappointed to it in January by Governor Jerry Brown. He said the new plan clarifies roles and duties that can be pressed into service in an emergency.

“We have the responsibility of coordinating responses to emergencies, so we developed a plan that was last adopted in 2012 or 2013,” Intintoli said. “This newly adopted plan adds more detail on the coordination and participation of staff in emergency planning with other agencies like the Coast Guard, which has primary responsibility for safety on the Bay.”

The agency’s new chairwoman, Jody Breckenridge, is a Coast Guard admiral, and “she has a focus on emergency planing that is very welcome to the agency and with her help, the latest version of the plan was drafted and adopted.”

Intintoli describes the new plan as “an articulation of the coordination that’s involved in working with the cities, the counties, the Coast Guard, so reaction to an emergency will be executed more smoothly.”

Recognizing you can’t anticipate everything in emergencies, the new plan, nevertheless, should cut down on confusion and duplicated efforts, Intintoli said.

“We have agreements with the Golden Gate ferries and the Blue and Gold ferries, and we can call on help with providing added boats if needed,” he said.

The precise actions WETA personnel will take will depend on the particulars of the disaster, Intintoli said.

“Basically, it’s about coordinating getting people out of danger and to safety and to medical attention if needed,” he said. “In 1906, Vallejo was a place where people impacted by the earthquake were taken. This could be the situation again. It could be the reverse. Advance planning helps address the emergency when it happens.”

Nineteen stakeholder organizations participated in the validation of the plan, which also outlines WETA’s coordinating role with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard, according to the announcement.

WETA’s ERP is one of several guidance documents designed to help Bay Area transportation agencies and authorities restore passenger transportation as safely and quickly as possible, it says.

WETA regularly updates the ERP and conducts training and testing exercises and investigations with partner agencies, to ensure optimal preparedness, it says.

For instance, Intintoli said, “we need to work out how to ensure the boats are there when needed and that staff can get there, like making sure necessary personnel have the needed (credentials).”

“You need to have worked out alternative scenarios for responding,” he said, adding that when everyone knows their battle station and their job, there’s less confusion, “and a more efficient response to whatever the emergency demands.”


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