Bay Area Cities Unite Disaster and Terror Response Plans

The mayors of the Bay Area's three largest cities on Monday announced a new initiative to bring regional coordination to the emergency response plans that communities develop to prepare for large-scale disasters such as earthquakes or terrorist attacks.

The mayors of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose gathered at the Cypress Freeway Memorial Park to announce a two-year, $2.2 million effort to maximize the Bay Area's emergency resources should the region be rocked by catastrophe.

The park is near the spot where 42 people were killed when the Loma Prieta Earthquake caused the Cypress Freeway to collapse 16 years ago Monday.

"We are taking the measures that will put us in the maximum position to respond to any emergency -- whether it's some weapons of mass destruction, or whether it's an earthquake or some other kind of natural disaster," said Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown.

Brown, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzalez called the effort the first of its kind in the United States.

It is being spearheaded by San Francisco, which is providing federal Homeland Security funds to pay the lion's share of the planning effort. The first phase of the project will be to inventory the emergency assets -- hospital beds, ambulances, communications systems and other vital infrastructure -- available within the 10 counties participating in the project. Those counties include the nine Bay Area counties plus Santa Cruz.

The next phase will be to develop clear guidelines for how those assets should be used in a major disaster, with the aim of having a draft of the regional plan ready by next April.

First responders within the 10 counties will then take part in a series of workshops, seminars and multi-jurisdictional exercises to test components of the plan before it is finalized.

Though the three mayors and other Bay Area officials have been working on a regional response plan for six months, the effort really got off the ground on Friday when URS Corp. of San Francisco was hired to develop the coordinated disaster plan.

URS, one of the world's largest engineering design companies, has conducted more than 150 homeland security assessment and planning projects in the US since 2002.

"The plan will test the dimensions of our coordination for communications, transportation, housing, emergency response, medical care -- all the features of an effective response to an emergency when it takes place," said Tom Bishop, vice president of URS.

Newsom said the project has been in the works for six months, but that the floundering response to Hurricane Katrina added urgency to the regional collaboration.

That urgency was drummed home again last week, Newsom said, when a disaster drill in San Francisco -- based on the hypothetical explosion of a MUNI bus, resulting in 200 injuries -- showed that city officials would be unable to call in a sufficient number of ambulances to respond effectively.

"The reality is we must regionalize our emergency planning," Newsom said. "If there's an earthquake, the entire region is going to be affected. If there's an earthquake, the entire region is going to be looking for mutual aid -- be it ambulances, be it police or fire services. If our bridges are knocked out, understanding our transportation systems on a regional scale is going to be key."

Contra Costa Times

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