Leadership Lessons

Leadership Lessons Paper


Leadership Lessons

This paper will discuss the major emergency event that took place in Northern California, back in October,1989. This incident involved multiple agencies and the emergency management of the Loma Prieta Earthquake (often referred as the San Francisco earthquake) that took place on October 17, 1989 (Dellums, Mineta, Panetta, Pelosi, & Representatives, 1992). This essay will summarize the event, and provide the responses conducted by law enforcement and the fire agencies. It will also provide detail of the roles within structured command. It will also include the emergency management leadership theories, and how leadership deals with the community, media during, and after the crisis. Furthermore, it will discuss how emergency management training assisted with the overall emergency management approach, and any ethical challenges faced by leaders working through the event, and what could have been done different, now that the event is over.

Summary of the Event

On October 17, 1989, while the Oakland A’s were getting ready to take on the San Francisco Giants at 5:30p.m., a magnitude 6.9 earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay Area at 5:04 p.m., killing 67 people, injuring 3000 more, and causing more than $5 billion in damages. Despite the fact that it was one of the most powerful, and destructive earthquakes to hit a densely populated area of the United States, the death toll was really low. The disaster is referred often as the San Francisco-Oakland earthquake or the Loma Prieta earthquake, since it was centered near Loma Prieta Peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains (Staff, 2017). According to a report written by the General Accounting Office, “This earthquake was one of the most destructive to hit the United States since 1979, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency was created.” As of April,1992 over $350mil in federal funds were used to repair public and non-profit structures (Dellums, Mineta, Panetta, Pelosi, & Representatives, 1992).

Responses by Fire and Law Enforcement Agencies

Law enforcement presence is very condensed in this area, with a number of different policing agencies on all levels, ranging from federal, state, county, city and special district levels that serve millions living in or around the region. The total number of all agencies in the counties that were affected, there are services provided by the following agencies: 90 Municipal Police Departments, 10 County Sheriff’s Departments, 4 California State University Police Departments, and 3 University of California Police Departments. Other agencies such as, the California Highway Patrol, State Police, the California Department of Justice, Peace officers with the California Department of Parks & Recreation, as well as school districts, community colleges and other special districts also assisted in rescue efforts (Division, 1990). Some of the agencies assisted with assessing damage. In some instances there was no damage, and were able to resume their operations like normal. Others had suffered substanial losses in capabilities and to equipment. Some agencies had to change the way of their operations during this type of event.

According to the survey conducted by OES Law Enforcement division, their assessments regarding structural damage was noted as minimal. Whereas, “facility damage” was noticed with cracked floors, jammed doors, and separated walls. Fixtures were broken, shattered windows left broken glass, broke water pipes, furntire either moved, or fallen over in buildings. Equipment had come loose, such as fire extinguishers and cabinets (Division, 1990).

The operational priorities of law enforcement assisted with many situations. They suffered damage, continued with assessments of the affected areas, as well as continuing to handle incoming calls through 911. They had placed officers at the EOC, and were assisting injured citizens that they had come across during their observations. In some cases, they did light search and rescue operations in areas that were usually handled by fire authorities (Division, 1990). The assisted residents with incidents that reported gas leaks, power outages, and traffic signal failures. Additional security was provided to the evacuated areas considered to be priority areas. They continued to monitor for criminal activity, crimes against other persons, and theft of property (Division, 1990).

Fire services responses were established rather quickly. The Pacific Operation Command Post (PAC OPS), under the command of Battalion Chief Peterson, the designated Incident Commander at the ICS, and by 7:00p.m. a temporary morgue was set up (Phipps, 2017). By the time the ICS was set up, citizens were already assisting with the attempt to free many others who were trapped in colapsed buildings. Members of the fire deparments were using bullhorns to advise citizens to evacuate due to the unsafe conditions. Lifeguards were organized into search and rescue teams, along with the use of police dogs to search for additional victims (Phipps, 2017). There were some issues experienced in the Santa Cruz area, as citizens were continuing to search after dark and subsequently arrested; some of the fire relay stations were unable to communicate for several hours, insuffient amount of radios for communication, power failures, refuling equipment was difficult due to the low abilty to obtain fuel; incomplete communications were suffered due to the earthquake zones impeded the flow of information to pass on to responding agencies (Phipps, 2017).

Detailed Roles

There was a plethora of agencies involved with the rescue attempts made during the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake. The Emergency Command Center (ECC) was set up on Turk Street in San Francisco. The Director of the local Office of Emergency Services (OES), was the advisor to the Mayor and assisted the City Attorney on technical procedures for declaring a state of emergency, and putting in motion a disaster application center request. In addition, he reported the activation of the ECC accordingly, and staff arrived at the scene quickly (Orr-Smith, 1989).

The Director, Department of Public Works (DPW), was in charge of building inspections, and coordinating emergency contacts for public structures (City and County of San Francisco, 2008). The Department of Electricity was responsible for street lighting, and working with the citizens committee on lighting. The Director of Health, the Associate Director, and the Chief Paramedic reported to the City’s Emergency Operations Center almost immediately. This team assessed damages and directed emergency medical operations (Orr-Smith, 1989). The National Guard, was called in to support civilian efforts.

Leadership Dealings with the Community, and Media

When it came to public information operations, while it was not necessarily a law enforcement-specific function, police, sheriff and Highway Patrol personnel played key roles in providing information to the public through the news media. Law enforcement worked with the PIO’s from other agencies, in key damaged areas to get the information out. Together they put together media centers, held press conferences, provided media with tours and assisted with hundreds of interviews. As with any operation, some aspects of these activities resulted in learning points for all involved (Division, 1990).

Training Assistance and Overall Emergency Management Approach

When a major event, such as a major earthquake, assistance from neighboring jurisdictions through the Mutual Aid system or from the State government through CalEMA.

As described in CCSF, the EOC is the focal point for emergency management coordination. CCSF departments and agencies with Department Operations Centers (DOCs) manage operations, including tactical operations of field units. The DOCs communicate with the EOC via established emergency communications systems or a liaison officer to the EOC (City and County of San Francisco, 2008).

Ethical Challenges

There were some ethical issues that were presented during the response and recovery efforts throughout. The Director of the local Office of Emergency Services (OES) indicated that when staff left the ECC, Jenkin said he could not get information about what was going on and did not have information he needed to comply with state and regional Office of Emergency Services protocols. The Deputy Fire Chief Farrell agreed that the ECC closed too soon, when help was needed, calls made to ECC were unanswered, and we would have to go searching somewhere else (Orr-Smith, 1989). The Police Chief also advised there were major problems with receiving phone calls, and emphasized better security and a staging location for media to obtain the information needed. The Director of the DWP, reported that during the transition from response to recovery, there was a breakdown in communications after the ECC closed down. These are just to name a few of the challenges presented during the earthquake rescue efforts.


The 1989 San Francisco earthquake, it is still one of the most powerful, and destructive earthquakes to hit a densely populated area of the United States as of today. Having been described as the most destructive earthquake to hit the United States since 1979, after FEMA was created, over $350 million dollars in federal funds were used to repair structures throughout the affected cities. Surprisingly, with all the destruction, the death toll was really low.

Although there were some ethical issues that were presented during the response and recovery efforts throughout, such as when staff left the ECC, people contacting them could not get information about what was going on and did not have information he needed to comply with state and regional Office of Emergency Services protocols. Calls made to ECC were unanswered, and there was a breakdown in communications after the ECC closed down. These are just to name a few of the challenges presented during the earthquake rescue efforts. Now that the local, state and federal government agencies have had the opportunity to review any mistakes or items that were overlooked, this provides them hope to have a better plan in place, should this type of event occur in the future.


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