PACKET RADIO: Notes from the '89 CA Earthquake
Steve Wolf, W8IZ@W8IZ
(This text from the NO8M packet radio bulletin
board. It's formatted to fit a 80 character screen.)
*** SECTION F *** TELEPHONE OPERATIONS - EAST BAY CHAPTER OCT 1989 QUAKE
USER INTERFACE PROBLEMS
Regarding cellular telephones, we are a large but poor chapter and own none. During the first day of the disaster, our Chapter Manager, Marian Wilson, was lent a cellular telephone by the City of Oakland EOC. It didn't work well because of user interface problems and lack of spare batteries, but it was helpful. Only after the fifth day, were we able to get long term loans of cellular telephones from local vendors and later from Western Operations Headquarters. Again user interface problems, mainly due to battery charging but also neglecting to leave the phone "on" caused some problems. Obviously, if people were used to operating cellular telephones on a daily basis, it would not have been such a problem during a disaster.
CELLULARS ISSUED TO KEY PERSONNEL
On the fifth day, the cellulars were issued to the job director, the disaster chairperson, mass care, public relations, disaster volunteer coordinator, government liaison, damage assessment, transportation, communications, supervisors, and other key support people. Later when, the DSHR personnel arrived, new cellulars were obtained and issued to them as well.
CELLULARS AT SHELTERS
As every disaster is "unique", this one had new shelters opening up even 7 days after the original quake because of building department condemnations of large hotels and apartments. Although, I suggested the installation of permanent telephone lines to be installed, the job director insisted on using cellulars at a couple of shelters that didn't have existing telephones. This worked "fair", depending if the shelter manager knew how to use it. The City of Oakland OES picked most of the shelters and ask us to "open" them. They did not take into consideration the availability of telephones in their choices to our detriment.
The Oakland disaster operations took place in some of the most economically depressed areas in the city. A few cellular telephones did "walk away" despite "good" security. On a large 24 hour disaster operation where we use volunteers from "all over" such a problem is difficult to prevent. A few times cellulars and chargers were locked up so that "nobody" could get to them, hence rendering the equipment temporarily useless. Theft at Oakland was the worse I have ever experienced in any disaster, yet "the spirit" still was high.
Telephones in General
Loss of Power = Loss of Switchboard
When the earthquake struck, the Oakland Headquarters lost commercial power for over 12 hours. We had an emergency power generator that was SUPPOSED to plug into the electric grid. However it had not been tested for years and we could not get it working properly for at least 5 hours. The Oakland center's physical plant and telephone system had suffered from many management decision changes that was not coordinated with disaster services. Decisions had been made based on day-to-day business cost effectiveness which wound up a detriment to disaster services. As a result, the outlet that fed the switchboard which was at one time served by the emergency power grid (generator) had been moved and therefore the switchboard was no longer on the emergency grid. The battery backup had long been burned out and not tested.
Choice of Switchboards
But even after commercial power was restored, there were other problems. The telephone systems for the Red Cross were almost useless for the first week even though telephone service within the disaster area on this earthquake worked fairly well even on the first day. This dichotomy is explained because Oakland's poor choice of switchboards (AT&T HORIZON PBX) which turned over automatically to the next available number if the previous line was in use. Thus the entire switchboard could be locked up continually if the incoming and outgoing calls were of a sufficient quantity. There were more extensions than there were lines on the system by a factor of three to one.
IN-HOUSE LINES "BUSY" Despite the Local Exchange Functioning
In other words, the telephone lines into the Red Cross Oakland Headquarters, where the East Bay Chapter had their EOC, were continuously "busy". Outgoing lines were very difficult to find as there were more extension handsets than there were actual available lines. By the 3rd day, we were able to increase our lines into the switchboard from 10 to 20, and install 12 new private lines independent from the switchboard. But we were again quickly over loaded. The only solution at that time was, additional lines that by-passed the switchboard. However we soon "maxed out" as the telephone company lines at the street could not provide additional service into our area without stringing larger cable from blocks away. It was poor planning on my part! We were fortunate that the main telephone exchange grids were not overloaded and dial tones were easily available anywhere in the exchange but not from inside the Red Cross. Likewise calls into shelters were almost always busy, because of heavy usage. Thus ham radio and Red Cross radios were essential until the telephone situation could be normalized.
TELEPHONE COMMUNICATIONS OUTSIDE OF EAST BAY CHAPTER
We did have need to talk to outside chapters such as Golden Gate (San Francisco), San Jose, and Santa Cruz as well as Western Operations Headquarters in Burlingame. Communications outside the East Bay Telephone Exchange to these nearby exchanges areas were almost impossible due to constant "inter"- exchange overload problems. Here ham radio linked up whomever we needed to talk to. The nature of these communications were for the purpose of redistributing excess supplies, centralizing the fund raising efforts on a non-competitive basis, issuing joint PR statements, etc.
Our most important users were the Job Director (Admin), Mass Care, Disaster Health Services, and Feeding...maybe in that order? Yet the heaviest users were Volunteers and Fund raising. WE WERE NOT AWARE OF THE GREAT VOLUME OF TELEPHONE CALLS WE WOULD RECEIVE WHEN ANNOUNCEMENTS FOR DONATIONS AND VOLUNTEERS WOULD BE ISSUED IN THE MEDIA. If we had to do it over again, I would suggest that donations and fund raising be set up in an alternative building nearby, almost immediately. This would have given the overloaded Oakland telephones a great breather for the other services.
After the sixth day the Red Cross disaster operations was moved to Concordia School about 4 miles away. This was to allow "National" to come in and turn the chapter back to "normal". At Concordia, 30 separate lines were dropped, re-configurable at the main office, utilizing a CENTREX SYSTEM. The CENTREX System seemed to be very flexible and worked well. By this time national had centralized the Bay area combined fund raising in San Francisco so we were only concerned with Volunteers, transportation, Mass Care, Health Services, Administration, etc. Family Services was being run entirely at a different location. These additional operating centers did cause some problems to communications, transportation, and feeding as well as Mass Care, and it was the observation of most, that as soon as the move to Concordia occurred, the quality of our services to the victims degraded considerably.
ADDENDUM REPLACING THE RADIO SYSTEM WITH TELEPHONES
In general most East Bay residents did not lose commercial power nor telephone service within their exchange despite severe earthquake damage to the Pacific Telephone's "OLD" Franklin Street Headquarters in downtown Oakland (which was evacuated). Dial tones were slow but available. "Key" numbers were predictably and sometimes perpetually "busy". Calling outside of the East Bay exchange to San Francisco, South Bay, and Santa Cruz exchanges was at best "lucky" for first 5 days.
After AC power was restored to the switchboard at the Oakland Center Red Cross Headquarters, lines still remained hopelessly overloaded and busy. Originally, less than 10 lines were available to the entire building although there was a theoretical capacity for 50 separate numbers.
The lines to the Oakland Office of Emergency Services were constantly "busy" and thus useless as well. Shelters characteristically were placed in School Gymnasiums which for the most part had no telephone service and when finally installed, quickly became overloaded. Complications arose as to who was to be the "interface" person with the telephone company between the Disaster Administrator, the Communications Chairperson, and the Chapter Manager. As Communications Chairperson, I bowed out of the picture. As a result disaster communications functionality suffered. There is a need for clearer lines of "command" to be established before hand.
It took 40 hours to get new telephone extensions installed to the Horizon (AT&T) PBX and radically revise its operation. 10 new lines and 5 new extensions were added to the Horizon switchboard by AT&T. 12 new separate direct dial lines were added for direct (non-switchboard use) by Pacific Telephone. Fortunately, we had about 40 telephone handsets stored at the Richmond center and much wire to help facilitate these new lines. As it turned out Pacific Bell and AT&T donated their time and equipment free. Despite this addition, lines into the Red Cross were continually overloaded and "busy" and people inside the building were often unusable to find a telephone anywhere in the building that had a usable outgoing line. The pay phone in the lobby was also constantly busy, normally used for personal calls by the many volunteers who often numbered greater than 300 at any given time (night or day) for the first five days!
After the first 6 days, the switchboard at Oakland became more usable. However it was then decided to move the Red Cross operations to 4 miles away to Concordia School near 64th and MacArthur in order to get the Oakland Center back to normal. This move was met with opposition by some who feared that such a move would decrease our efficiency, be expensive, and further isolate the decision making body from the operational arm, but the move was completed by Tuesday October 24 with the installation of 25 phone lines at Concordia through a Centrex System which allowed maximum reconfigurration flexibility. It should be noted that the Golden Gate Chapter (San Francisco) never moved their operations out of their Chapter Headquarters while apparently maintaining good functionality.
At this time, the National Red Cross took over the operation as is standard practice on a National Disaster and told our Communications Section that they were no longer needed. We were requested by our own Transportation and Mass Care personnel to not remove the radios from our sites nor stop staffing Red Cross Radios until certain re-adjustments had been made. Standard operating procedure in such disasters is that as soon as normal telephone service within the exchange has proven to be reliable and as soon as additional telephone lines can be installed at shelters and operating sites, radio systems should go back to normal operations asap.
By Thursday all hams and Red Cross radios had been pulled out of service in shelters throughout Northern California except for Oakland. Cellular telephones were made available by National Red Cross to all key personnel but telephones still had not been installed at all shelters even after repeated requests for this to occur and even after it was obvious that the disaster had been over subscribed to i.e., funds were available.
The Communications section was then given the date of Sunday night, Oct 22 to close down the Red Cross radio system as transportation was to move out of Oakland Red Cross to Concordia. That move was delayed until Monday night, but then a new shelter was opened at Martin Luther King Recreation Center in Berkeley that same night, which had "questionable" telephones and the radios were scheduled to be pulled on Tuesday, October 31, after over two full weeks of radio service. The unique occurrence of shelters being opened even into the third week of the disaster was because the cities were still condemning buildings even two weeks after the quake.
A CASE HISTORY INVOLVING TELEPHONE COMMUNICATIONS VERSUS RADIO COMMUNICATIONS
One of course can not help to understand the interplay between telephone systems and radio systems, one filling the void left by the other. Desiring to pull the valuable and vulnerable radios as soon as possible by establishing telephone communications, the communicatiosn chairman was following what he thought was standard and logical procedure.
Then, the most contentious problem of the entire disaster arose for me as Communications Supervisor and Chairperson. An over zealous and distraught volunteer at Mass Care (but well meaning we are sure) requested radio Communications to remain open indefinitely. The reasons being in order received:
1) Radios are a psychological aid. 2) Radios can get us help (security) faster than telephones 3) There might be an after-shock and the telephones would fail. 4) The telephones are too busy or fragile 5) Communications can filter calls for "us" at Mass Care and make minor decisions in regards to mass care, especially late at night so that we don't have to be bothered.
The responses that were given by the Communications Chairman were:
1) That is a health services/psychological problem not communications.
2) Dialing 911 is faster than calling Communications who would then have to dial 911 in any case. Security police were stationed around the clock at each shelter in any case.
3) An after shock could occur at "anytime", but keeping the radios going indefinitely was not practical. A large aftershock, if having occurred, may render existing freeways useless and cause damage to other parts of the chapter whose radios now were in Oakland and would thus also be compromised. Indeed, the experts were looking for an even bigger quake now on the Hayward fault which would have impinged more strongly on other parts of the chapter whose supplies and communications equipment were now severely compromised by the Oakland and Berkeley operations.
4) Additional telephone lines could have been installed by now and be sufficient to handle all situations at all shelters and feeding operations..
5) The cardinal rule in training communicators is not to "filter", but to be transparent to the process. A recent bulletin from the State Office of Emergency Services to all Communicators states:
"As far as the end user is concerned the means of communication are normally invisible and should be so. The goal of the system is to move information and/or data as rapidly as possible, neither adding nor subtracting anything in the process." from William L. Musladin, Chief State RACES Officer, Office of Emergency Services, State of California, Sacramento.
The request by this over zealous Mass Care volunteer, although well meaning, violated the basic principles that communicators are trained to effect, and thus was something that I could not agree to. It would needlessly delay and alter messages if this plan were approved as the shelter managers would call communications first, then write the message down, and then call Mass Care. Here the extra middle man relay can introduce errors and certainly delay communications. A poor communications principle and one that I could not endorse.
This was clearly a mass care problem not a communications problem; but this volunteer was not going to "let up" and went to the head of Mass Care for the National Red Cross effort in Oakland and the Communications Assistant Supervisor who agreed to support her proposal despite my "logical" opposition, even though "Communications" was no longer on the Disaster Flow Charts, and was excused by the National Red Cross job director almost a week earlier; and this function was not on the communications job definition.
As Communications Chairman, I hesitatingly agreed to allow Mass Care use of the communications facilities, communications equipment, and communications recruits as long as it was clear that the operation was strictly and entirely under mass care, not communications and operators would answer as being " Mass Care. Although MAss Care agreed to call it Mass Care at that time, later it came to my attention that they answered as "Communications" when called.
The Disaster Services Chairman was informed as to the situation as the ultimate responsibility of the safety of the equipment was his and my job function was under him. He said he would investigate and get back to me; and I stepped back as an observer. We were then into the third week of radio communications, where in my opinion, telephones could have taken over 99% of the communications by the end of the first week as they did in San Francisco and Santa Cruz earthquake operations.
What ensued was a misuse of "Communications" as a buffer for Mass Care was predictably "inefficient". I observed frustrated shelter managers call in for towels, vegetarian meals, medical transportation, special needs, etc being given negative responses from radio operators who answered as communications where the appropriate channel to deal with these requests would have been mass care. In most cases, the "communications" person would call up the mass care person on duty and receive a "no we can't provide". Obviously the communications person couldn't/wouldn't argue with the mass care person. Then the communicator would pass this information back to the shelter manager. Obviously, it did not do the shelter manager any good to argue with "communications" as they didn't make the decision.
Obviously, this was a good way of isolating mass care from the shelter managers and putting a "buffer" in between. There is another "word" for this type of buffering, which is called shirking responsibility, and that doesn't get the job done, but would sure to put the blame on communications. Regardless, this method only made more people mad at communications and decreased the quality and speed of service and by definition decreased the quality of communications. It was predictably a bad idea.
One may say that I, as communications chairman should have acquiesced, as I had been able to avoid similar potential problems in the past by doing so; but in this case I felt that this was a misuse of Communications in which I could not participate. I expected more support from my supervisors on this. Basically not receiving it, it was interpreted by myself as a vote of no confidence of my judgement regarding the use of Red Cross Disaster Communications..
What further discouraged the communications chairman about this contentious "finale" as Communications Supervisor with this disaster is that the Disaster Chairman was not able to respond in anyway as to a resolution/closure leaving the situation dangling as to roles and responsibilities with over $4000 worth of equipment in the field, despite repeated calls to his office, home, and written communications.
The critique of the Telephone Communications Section here ends with a negative, but hopefully instructive experience, that is in-house communications is also difficult in a dsiaster. One way to avoid difficulties is to have frequent staff meetings for everyone to air their frustrations and to have the overall personell supervisor bring up about resolution. This is particularly difficult in a disaster where staffing is 24 hours a day and where spare time is short. It was the only real personnel problem that Communications faced that had an unsatisfactory outcome, but it is well worth bringing up as it may be relevant to future leadership preparation.
****** SECTION G ******** THE NORTHERN CALIFORNIA EARTHQUAKE, OCTOBER 1989 CRITIQUE OF RED CROSS EAST BAY OPERATIONS (GENERAL)
IN-HOUSE OPERATIONS CRITIQUE: POOR PLANNING, BUT A GREAT RESPONSE!
The purpose of this critique is to target areas for future improvement by analyzing the events of the 1989 Northern California Earthquake operations at the East Bay Chapter
GENERAL STATEMENT; It has become more increasingly clear that the Red Cross functions best as a community focus point for Disaster Services. It should provide training and structure in order to provide services for victims of disasters. We should be judged solely on our efficiency and quality in providing these services. Our great task therefore must be to create a structure in which the resources of the community can "plug into" the Red Cross to facilitate this goal.
During the Loma Prieta Earthquake, it appeared to this observer that we functioned best when we allowed for the community to become activated through our structure. Quality service fell off sharply when we failed to serve as this focus/function.
Larger Quake: What If?
We were lucky, the quake was a terrible disaster, but our existing resources managed to get the job done. People were fed and housed, albeit sometimes inefficiently and slowly. All the various functions were facilitated. But if the quake is a little larger, we must expect a different scenario and be prepared. We must identify the areas in which we need improvement and at the same time attempt to extrapolate the further problems that did not show up in this one.
In a larger earthquake, obviously more trained volunteers would be required as well as shipments of supplies from distant places. Fuels, water, sanitary facilities, means of transportation and communications will be strained as well.
The general format of this section is in three parts i.e., PROBLEM, DISCUSSION, and RECOMMENDATION.
Problem (that needs improvement): Overall Lack of Efficiency
Discussion and Background: The East Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross did not have an active disaster committee as per national guidelines. A Disaster Advisory Committee, however did exist consisting solely of the Disaster Chairman, Vice Chair, DAT Coordinator, and the sub-committee chairpersons so appointed by the disaster chairman.
This Advisory Committee was a poor substitute for an active disaster committee.
The Advisory Committee refused to discuss a large disaster greater than 200 families despite numerous recommendations by the Communications Chairman.
The Advisory Committee spent 95% of its time discussing issues of format, "window dressing", social events, government liaison, DAT matters, budget matters,, fund raising, education, training, Disaster Plan, fire prevention, etc. Far too little time was spent on nuts and bolts issues such as alerting and activation procedures, emergency power, scenarios, testing, operational procedure, shelter preparation, i.e., real disaster planning for a large disaster. No time was given toward earthquake planning. The minutes of the advisory committee will bear this out. The disaster advisory committee leadership consciously committed the number one sin of earthquake planning; earthquakes were considered an "if" not a "when".
The Advisory Committee repeatedly refused a chapter wide test and even an arm-chair test despite recommendations by the Communications Chairperson. An unwillingness by the Disaster Advisory Committee to at least desk top test an earthquake or large disaster and thus be able to identify staffing, alerting, emergency power, communications, nursing, supply, and other needs continually frustrated the minority.
There was a continuing disregard in creating a Disaster Committee to address these concerns and to interface with trained disaster volunteers, community organizations, local disaster agencies, church groups, and other resources. Our local presence suffered greatly.
Much of the problems could have been solved before hand. The key in disaster preparedness is planning. The responsibility for planning falls to the Disaster Services Committee.
Since the merging of the Berkeley West Contra Costa Chapter with the Oakland South Alameda County Chapters into one big East Bay Chapter from Livermore to Crockett, there has not been a disaster services committee meeting nor has there been any serious attempt to recruit the old members or keep them informed. I personally have bumped into highly trained and experienced members of the former B/WCC Disaster Committee who wish to help both planning and operations of medium or large size disaster but whose life styles preclude their participation with the DAT at the present time, yet the existing advisory committee has for the past two years not been able to "plug-in" these resources.
The neglectfulness to appoint/recruit sub-committee chairpersons in the important areas of damage assessment, family services, health services volunteer coordination, records and receipts, public affairs, supply, transportation, family services, disaster welfare Inquiries, etc. at the time of the earthquake indicates an extremely poor level of preparation.
At the time of the disaster there was no chairperson for the following key positions: Damage Assessment, Disaster Health Services, Volunteer Coordinator (paid staff), Coordinator of Disaster Volunteers, Disaster Welfare Inquiries, Supply, Transportation, Records and Reports, Government Liaison, Public Relations,, etc. As a matter of fact only Mass Care, Communications, and Education had chairpersons appointed and only Communications had an active sub-committee despite having no budget.
Not only was our planning abominable, but our in-House communications was worse. Paid staff did not know what the advisory committee was doing, nor their roles in a disaster. The potential multitude of trained volunteers that would be needed in a large disaster had no communication with current planning, procedures, policies, or Red Cross in-house changes except if you were a member of the DAT.
Coupled with the fact that the advisory committee told us that there was no budget for even a disaster services newsletter, we had no way of plugging in, updating, or communicating with trained and experienced (or interested) disaster volunteers who could help out in a large disaster such as potential Nurses, Shelter Managers, Damage Assessment Personnel, etc.instead of just those who are active in the DAT.
At the time of the disaster there was only one third paid staff for disaster preparedness (Jeanne Nickaloff had to break up her time between Social Services, Service to Military Families and Disaster.) The assistant Emergency Services Director had still not been hired to replace Lonnie O'Dell who had transferred to Arizona. This is not enough paid staff dedicated to Disaster Services.
There was a long time vacancy of the paid staff position of Director of Volunteers despite the fact that disaster needed volunteers.
In addition, the paid staff had no plan, procedure, nor mechanism to plug into disaster operations. They did not know their roles. In short, the "in-house communications" from the disaster advisory committee to the paid staff was insufficient.
Little occurred in the disaster that "we" had not expected; but much occurred that "we" had no mechanism in place to effectively deal with. The initial response was thus predictably chaotic (the first 24 hours was poor). This was because;
There was a lack of planning for a large disaster despite the existence of a small minority that pushed in the disaster advisory committee to approach the subject of a possible earthquake scenario which was never dealt with.
The advisory committee chairpersons did not share information well and because of poor in-house communications there was little depth. Because of this lack of in-house communications, the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing. This was mostly due to lack of testing and preparation that could have been prevented. Before the disaster, telephone calls would be left unanswered time and time again. During the disaster there was a tendency for administers to lock themselves in their offices or "disappear" when decision making became extremely difficult. Again there was no effective mechanism to share important information.
Orientation at shift changes were mostly incomplete and we suffered from lack of continuity and follow-through.
1) Implement at once local disaster committees who can have direct contact with local community resources, organizations, governments, shelters, volunteers, etc.
2) Expend less time at Disaster Advisory Committee meetings with "window dressings" and social issues and more time with nuts and bolts issues.
3) Perform Chapter wide tests (or at least desk top walk throughs) exploring all potential possibilities and target problem areas.
4) Test with other agencies and/or organizations whenever possible.
5) Aggressively fill in open sub-committee chairmanships through open publicity. Do not keep it a secret nor feel that the candidate must already be highly trained.
6) Develope depth in all categories. Require all chairpersons to recruit vice-chairs.
7) Ensure that paid staff vacancies that negatively impact upon disaster services are filled promptly and if necessary lobby the board in order that it is accomplished.
8) Demand adequate funding for disaster preparedness, and if not funded, lobby the board for adequate attention.
9) Improve in-house communications procedures through a disaster services newsletter (at least twice a year) that goes not only to the DAT, but to all disaster volunteers that still wish to be "plugged in". Request donations for the newsletter from the volunteers.
10) Improve in-house communications by promoting the policy that information sharing is desirable (after all this is not a competitive corporation). Create an organized system for communications flow to and from the committees, agencies, government, volunteers, paid staff, and all relevant players.
11) Increase Quality of Shelters
Priority considerations should be given in choosing shelters that have telephones and emergency power already available.
From the standpoint of supply, communications, and feeding, fewer larger shelters versus many small shelters are more desirable.
Choose shelters as soon as possible that already have reliable, adequate, and accessible telephone service. This prevents delay and errors from unnecessary relaying and prevents loss and damage of installed equipment. It also increases the resource pool for future shelter radios.
Update shelter lists more often with multiple and updated contact people for accessibility to the shelters as well as maintenance problems such as plumbing, power, etc. Information about the shelter's telephone accessibility and emergency power should be also noted.
Problem (that needs improvement): Eliminate the DAT Reserve
Discussion and Background: The undermining of the Disaster Committee by the creation of the DAT reserve. A large KRC can not function in a large disaster as an over grown DAT. Lets put this idea to rest once and for all. I repeatedly opposed the idea of the DAT reserve in lieu of a functioning Disaster Committee, but repeatedly lost.
The Large DAT "Idea" Does Not Supplant a Disaster Committee. The apparent low priority for emergency power was counter balanced by an over emphasis placed on DAT matters, PR, window dressing, and involvement in other areas far removed from basic disaster preparedness.
Thus too much time was delegated to matters other than large or medium sized disaster preparedness. The DAT Reserve idea was a poor substitute for an active disaster committee.
There was severe resistance by the "Disaster Advisory Committee" and the "Administration" to consider keeping in touch with disaster trained volunteer resources other than within the context of the DAT. Trained disaster people who were not on the DAT did not know where to report and to whom? There was no plan on how to report and to where for trained volunteers to be of any help. In other words there was no alerting, activation, and gathering plans for a large disaster. If you put this responsibility to a DAT, you will never be able to focus on large disaster issues.
Action Item/Recommendation: Eliminate the DAT Reserve and institute real a real disaster committee with real planning, activation, alerting, testing, etc.
Problem (that needs improvement): No East Bay Chapter Picture ID cards at the time of the Disaster
Discussion and Background:
We spent months (far too much time) designing the format and requirements of a Red Cross ID card. At the time of the earthquake, we still had not issued Red Cross Disaster I.D. cards nor decided on the requirements. The disaster advisory committee over my objection had decided that all Disaster Volunteers that are issued IDs should have a Current basic First Aid certification and have taken the Introduction to Disaster Services course. Current First Aid certification still seems to be not necessary especially if we are recruiting volunteers who are specialists in such unrelated fields as damage assessment, communications, fund raising, etc. We were lucky that the police did not further hassle our volunteers as much as they did but certainly in a larger disaster this would have been a greater problem, especially for our communicators who may be our leading source of information. Of course we should have on store more Red Cross IDs than we did for the Loma Prieta Earthquake as we know we ran out of IDs by the second week.
Action Item/Recommendation: Issue picture IDs to all registered disaster volunteers (not just DAT members) who are active and who have taken Introduction to Disaster Services. Do not require current First Aid certification for specialists like communications, damage assessment, DWI, etc for qualification of picture IDs. Authorize the Communications Chairman to issue picture IDs to "qualified" communicators. Keep on stock a greater quantity of temporary IDs than previously.
Problem (that needs improvement): The Establishment of an Emergency Operating Center Plan
Discussion and Background: Available telephone and emergency power lines were not easily accessed. Worse, in-house communications were poor owing that each department had separate rooms with closed doors and the resultant isolation. Decisions were being made on out-of-date information and/or false/inaccurate information. The number one problem in this disaster was in-house communications. An intelligent EOC structure (of which there was none) would have greatly solved this in-house communications problem. Once the location and physical structure of the in-house EOC was established then telephone jacks, emergency power, appropriate signs, etc could be prepared and place in standby readiness. Even though, during a large disaster we would attempt to move the EOC to a location outside the chapter house, in practical reality, this may not be practical for a week or two especially if the Bay Area were to suffer a large earthquake on the Hayward fault.
Action Item/Recommendation: The Emergency Operations Center should have emergency power, multiple line telephone jacks already installed (with telephone hand sets stored in the communications room), a status board, job station placards, etc. Tests should be run out of an EOC structure utilizing a structured EOC.
Problem (that needs improvement): Lack of Organization at the Operations Site/Facility
Discussion and Background:- Because the disaster advisory committee never walked through an earthquake scenario nor even a medium sized disaster, we never even discussed the creation of an emergency operating center, where it would be located in the building, the needed power and telephones for its operation, how it would be organized, or how it would "work". The resulting chaos on the first day was chiefly due to this lack.
The ongoing lack of continuity and repeated mistakes occurred because no one was assigned the task of site manager/facilitator or ACTION FACILITATOR. Such a job title would be to smooth out difficulties in the operational flow at the Red Cross EOC (Emergency Operating Center) in regards to physical plant operation, location of special departments, security, truck and yard operation (to be coordinated with transportation and supply), logistics, operational site problems, in-house communications problems, etc.
Security became a problem at Oakland and shelters without an adequate plan. A site facilitator (or site operations supervisor) would not only alleviate a considerable burden from the job director but would be needed even after the EOC moved from the Chapter House to the out of chapter EOC for National Operations, to arrange the new site (with the approval of the new job director).
Action Item/Recommendation: Create a job title and function of action facilitator or EOC manager, to facilitate the Red Cross EOC site problems, layout, in-house communications problems, security problems, logistics, etc. Such a person would work as a valuable aide to the job director.
Problem (that needs improvement): POOR IN-HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS INTERFACE:
Discussion and Background: This was mostly due to the lack of a structured Red Cross EOC, the lack of tests, the lack of a site facilitator, and the lack of a message center. There was a tendency for fatigued volunteers who were already overloaded to lock themselves up behind closed doors or to "hide". Information was not shared in a closed office structure. Out of date and/or false information was posted on walls or acted upon because no one was charged in updating all key personnel in all departments.
Action Item/Recommendation: The creation of the site facilitator, the structured EOC, and the message center should help. An effort will have to be made by the volunteer leadership to share information and to create depth of understanding.
Problem (that needs improvement): Lost Messages at the Oakland Service Center.
Discussion and Background: Although radio and/or telephone communications to all sites and key agencies were maintained around the clock throughout the disaster many departments claimed that they were not getting their messages. After investigation, the problem was found. Single messages written on a single message form but that were addressed to more than one department were being taken to the first department and dying there. In other words a message from a shelter manager requesting transportation, a nurse, relief for oneself, more liquid refreshments, 20 towels, shampoo, and a head count for the next meal may well go to the supply department first and die there with the other departments not being copied. This problem was ameliorated by the creation of a message center and a message center manager; but because of shift changes of runners and managers this system never functioned perfectly.
Action Item/Recommendation: Investigation has suggested possibilities of utilizing a xerox machine at communications for messages, NCR paper message forms, or training of communicators and shelter managers to give separate messages for each department. All of these solutions have certain draw backs. Further tests will have to be run to find the message center format most suitable for the Red Cross operation. Certainly the establishment of the Message Center Manager job description, the establishment of a Message Center, and the establishment of an EOC will greatly help.
Problem (that needs improvement): The move to Concordia School ushered in a decisive lack of service to our clients.
Discussion and Background: The move of family services to Concordia School (64th and MacArthur) reflected a growing tendency in some of the leadership to "remove" or isolate themselves from the disaster. The move of "operations head shed" to a location away from (instead of toward) the operational sites so far removed from the rest of the operations (approximately 60 blocks from the closest shelter, interview site, or feeding center) added unnecessary strain to both communications, transportation, and operations staff. Not only did the physical location of Concordia necessitate site supervisors and support staff to expend extra time for travel, but tended to create a "gulf" and an appearance of aloofness between the troops in the field and the "head shed". Services to the clients noticeably began to deteriorate when the structure was tightened up on the first Sunday, but after the move to Concordia service to clients dramatically deteriorated. How much of this was due to the structured "aloofness" by the new structure and supervisors from national (who were perceived by some locals as being "cold") or due to the organizational structure of and physical location of Concordia can not be adequately discerned. Because the Oakland Chapter Headquarters building is very large and is earthquake proof, it may have been suitable to continue "selective" operations from that location more efficiently from the standpoint of communications, transportation, supply, records and reports, etc. This would also be more cost effective as well.
Action Item/Recommendation: 1) Choose "Head Shed" closer toward actual operations as long as transportation, communications, and telephones are reliable and available. 2) Consider (like Golden Gate Chapter did) to not move "the head shed" from Chapter Headquarters. Move instead volunteers, fund raising, family services, and DWI but keep transportation, supply, communications, mass care, disaster health services, and records and reports at the Chapter Headquarters.
Problem (that needs improvement): Location of Communications Room
Discussion and Background: At the onset of the disaster communications was located centrally at the Red Cross Chapter Headquarters in the lobby. Although far from ideal, it was central and was immediately available for access for key personnel. By Sunday, the move of the Communications Center to the Communications Room was completed. This temporarily freed up the lobby for "other" operations, but quickly in-house communications suffered. The Comm room is physically over 200 feet from the operations room and requires a runner to go up and down stairs. Runners were not always available thereby requiring the communicator a long walk away from the radio to deliver a message. Its location created considerable additional fatigue to at least this communicator. Key personnel could not easily converse with personnel in the field. Many people had difficulty in finding the Communications Room.
There are different theories as to where a communications room should be located, but it is not good to isolate it in a corner. It should be sufficiently out of the way so as not to create a disturbance or undue "noise" but not so far away as to hinder or delay communications.
Action Item/Recommendation: It is suggested that the Communications Room be moved to a more central location, perhaps in the room in back of the switchboard, through a new partition in the lobby, or perhaps a physical addition to the building but more centrally located than the present.
Problem (that needs improvement): Not Enough Functioning Communications Equipment
Discussion and Background: As Communications Chairman, I could not get the Disaster Advisory Committee or its chairperson to back me for a budget more than $0 over the past two years for Communications Committee despite many requests for a budget. It was thus apparent that the committee was not serious about maintaining its 2-way radio system or updating its telephone systems, when I was repeatedly turned down for any budget whatsoever which then forced the Communications Chairman to pay for the repairs, mailings, and communications committee meetings out of his own pocket. At the same time many members expected our communications system to work like that of a full time business whose budget was $50,000 a year or more for communications alone. This was a difficult situation to be responsible for.
If the disaster were any larger, which may well be the case, given a large quake on the Hayward fault, much extra communications equipment would be needed for the additional shelters, and volunteer communicators would be in shorter supply given that governmental agencies would make greater use of them as well.
Action Item/Recommendation: If a disaster Committee wants professional and reliable communications it must be willing to give its Communications Chairman a yearly budget based on goals, realistic maintenance needs, and priorities.
Problem (that needs improvement): Emergency Power at Oakland
Discussion and Background: The committee gave a low priority to obtaining emergency power at Oakland despite their insistence that we use Oakland as headquarters for any disaster in the chapter. A poor policy that proved made the first few hours of the disaster chaotic and inefficient.
Given a larger earthquake on the Hayward fault for instance, we would not have adequate fuel for generators or automobiles because many fuel tanks would rupture and the electricity necessary for fuel pumps would not be available. Fuel would have to be brought in from outside and this would take at least 48 hours to effect placing a burden on the local chapter to operate generators and vehicles as best they could.
Action Item/Recommendation: Obtain the services of a professional emergency power specialist for the Oakland site as soon as the Emergency Operating Center plans have been solidified for Oakland Disaster Operations. Secure adequate fuel storage facilities for at least 24 to 48 hour operation and implement agreements with the City of Oakland for additional emergency fuel for vehicles and generators if commercial sources are not available.
Problem (that needs improvement): Red Cross leadership often appeared as being short tempered, heartless, crass, and "mean" to raw recruits. The lack of "positive" leadership on some occasions.
Discussion and Background: A funny problem occurred after a few days. We witnessed supervisors on more than a few occasions when they were tired lose their patience with new volunteers who "messed" up or who did know the ropes. As time went on, most of the supervisors who were over-worked were having less and less fun. Instead of acting as a patient job supervisor and trainer to the endless line of well intentioned but raw new recruits, overworked supervisors tired of past mistakes and the restraints imposed upon themselves by the disaster, often appeared "heartless" in rendering decisions that impacted negatively (at least on the surface) in regard to the needs of victims. Of course these new recruits did not understand Red Cross policy, nor the other mechanisms that may have been in place to deal with the particular need. Never- the-less, Red Cross supervisors in more than a few occasions became quick tempered and "appeared" unnecessarily heartless in actions in front of new recruits.
It is easy when things are not going "easy" during a disaster to let one's ego go and blame others for not having it together. It takes a mature person to realize that such behavior is counterproductive during the disaster and that the expedient response is to transcend "blame" into "what do we do now"? It absorbs extra energy to weed out those who are embedded in the negative aura of blame and authority and to "educate" them or relieve them as the situation demands.
In a disaster strong leadership skills are valuable. One finds some people making decisions that they are not supposed to make, stepping on toes, and/or deriding others. Because large disasters are not common place these manifestations WILL manifest in events such as these; and they must be identified and handled by the leadership at first gently; but if continued it must be met decisively. Skills and approaches used in commercial management must be modified and/or re-educated to "volunteer" management motivation approaches. Leadership that have been working long hours must learn patience with new volunteers and must avoid appearing mean, crass, or angry at the many "foul ups" that untrained volunteers will surely create.
Action Item/Recommendation: Create as much depth as possible to give leadership personnel more rest and recreation. Train leadership on how their image may be not suffer adversely when making in-house decisions or implementing Red Cross policy. Investigate alternatives to official Red Cross policy that may not be providing needs of victims and allow for their implementation through another medium.
Some general problems to report that I have no "easy" answer to.
A) There was no Health and Welfare effort engaged upon by our own staff. We were greatly understaffed and worn out to even consider that. Perhaps with a DWI Chairperson this job could be accomplished via computerized systems.
B) There were many times when a shelter had to get by without a nurse. This happened many times. Obviously, with a Chairperson of Disaster Health Services this would might have been prevented. The truth is that we are not utilizing the resources of the community well as the nurses are there and available but we continuously fail in supplying the structure for them to plug in. Lack of Nurses
C) Likewise the quality of the food drastically suffered after the 5th day. There was little flexibility for those with special diet needs, despite that the disaster was over subscribed and that Golden Gate had procured professional caterers and special diets for those who needed it.
D) There was a lack of "means" to provide needed special supplies. With the order not to issue disbursing orders, special needs not covered by on-hand donations could not be filled. MAny needs come up at shelters besides basic comfort kits, medical supplies, food, and blankets, not the least are transportation needs, recreation, etc. This problem is compounded in earthquakes where people are not issued disbursing orders for alternative shelter (if available), and are housed in shelters for two or more weeks continuously.
Some staff seemed more intent in saving money than in providing services, even though adequate donations had been collected.
E) Psychological counseling needs would be more acute in a larger quake on the Hayward fault. During this disaster many suffered from post traumatic stress. Earthquakes with the ever present possibility of "Aftershocks" accentuate this problem. Many more trained disaster health services personnel capable of such counseling will be necessary.
F) Many well trained volunteers who were under utilized or turned away at the beginning were not called later when they were severely needed.
We had severe manpower shortages starting the first Sunday night and continuing every night there after at the Oakland center. Services gradually deteriorated in quality and timeliness as the disaster went on. Mass care service became increasingly more impotent, disorganized, crass, less relevant, and rigid mostly due to poor organization and not enough staffing.
For a discussion of the operations of Red Cross radios, telephone systems, and other communications topics see the additional sections.
Donald Simon, Communications Supervisor EBAY Chapter, Loma Prieta Earthquake.
Return to Packet FAQuette Index