September 21st, 2005


something new and exciting to worry about

(Lyrics answers posted.)

With events in New Orleans, the question of "the Big One" has been much on the minds of many San Franciscans, myself included. As one of my favorite baseball bloggers said:

"In the toxic floodwaters of Katrina, in the drowned houses and lives of St. Bernard Parish and the Ninth Ward I see my own city pulverized, in flames; in the desperate suicides and defections of New Orleans cops I see S.F. emergency workers unable to climb steep hills to reach people under debris; in the stranded refugees on the Superdome concourse I see people sleeping in the San Francisco streets, wondering when the next aftershock will send damaged buildings tumbling down."

We are in a precarious position here, and when our disaster comes it will be without warning. Response -- federal, state, local -- is all we have. So I find this profoundly disturbing:

Hosed: S.F. hydrants don't fit equipment from other fire departments.

Earthquakes are dangerous, but the real risk to life and limb is fire. All the seismic retrofits in the world are as nothing in the face of that. It was fire that caused the bulk of the destruction in 1906, and it will be fire that threatens us again when an 8.5 rocks the San Andreas. It's not just the fact that fire departments from other cities won't be able to use SF fire hydrants without hose adapters that bothers me. It's the blythe attitude of the SFFD. "Oh well, our system works for us and it will cost too much to change it." Don't they see? This is exactly the attitude that got us into trouble with Katrina. Planning for the ideal scenario instead of the worst case, dismissing the concerns of experts and of the people who would come in to help -- every non-SF fire official quoted in this story points to this issue as serious... this is all looking far too familiar.

Grim as this thought is, we have to stop thinking of natural disaster as an "if" and start planning for it as a "when". Unless attitudes change, I fear for my city.