Mayor London N. Breed today announced an update to the City’s strategy for responding to poor air quality and other weather-related emergencies. San Francisco has updated its Emergency Plan, identified locations for public respite facilities, developed a mutual aid roster, and has developed an air quality emergency public information toolkit.
“As we head into wildfire season, we must be prepared for poor air quality and higher temperatures,” said Mayor London Breed. “We need to look out for one another – especially our most vulnerable residents – and make sure that our communities know where they can go to access cleaner air and cooler facilities. We’ve made good progress, but the work can’t stop here. We will continue to strengthen our preparedness and will find ways to partner with community-based organizations to make sure we are as resilient as possible.”
In response to the poor air quality that San Francisco experienced in November 2018 as a result of the Camp Fire, Mayor Breed issued Executive Directive 18-04. The Executive Directive requested that the Department of Emergency Management (DEM), the Department of Public Health (DPH), and the City Administrator’s Office take action to strengthen the City’s preparedness and response to air quality and other weather-related emergencies. Yesterday, DEM, DPH, and the City Administrator’s Office submitted a Memo detailing their plans to the Mayor, which they presented at today’s DEM Disaster Council meeting.
“Thanks to the hard work of City staff, we have reviewed our portfolio of City-owned buildings and identified those best suited to provide respite from extreme heat and smoke,” said City Administrator Naomi M. Kelly. “We know that further investment will be needed, and it is important that we work strategically and equitably to best keep our visitors, workers, and residents safe.”
“The entire City is impacted by climate emergencies, but some people are affected more so than others. That is why we must work together to take care of those most at-risk to climate threats,” said Executive Director Mary Ellen Carroll, Department of Emergency Management. “Our experiences with poor air quality last fall and most recently the unseasonably high temperatures this month have made it clear we need the entire community to work together while responding to extreme weather emergencies. I am grateful for the whole community approach that has been put into action in the form of wellness checks, identifying public cleaner air and cooling facilities and engaging community organizations to share public safety and health messages with the clients they serve.”
“The health and safety of the entire San Francisco community is our paramount concern during an extreme weather event, including the recent heat and last fall’s poor air quality episodes,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of Health. “Extreme weather events will continue, and through ongoing collaboration with other city agencies and community partners, we will help people to be prepared in advance. During a heat wave or bad air quality episode, or both, our focus will be on ensuring that all communities, and particularly the most vulnerable populations, receive information, outreach and options on how to stay healthy.”
DPH and DEM revised the City’s Emergency Plan so that it provides recommendations and guidelines on how to protect public health during poor air quality events. The Plan identifies strategies to reach populations in San Francisco that are most vulnerable to poor air quality, including coordinating with City Departments, clinics, care facilities, and community-based organizations that serve vulnerable populations to relay air quality alert information. City Departments that serve vulnerable populations include DPH, the Human Services Agency (HSA), the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), and the Mayor’s Office on Disability. Vulnerable populations include people with heart or lung disease, individuals who are pregnant, seniors, children, those with situational exposures and those with no opportunity to mitigate their exposure, such as individuals experiencing homelessness.
The Plan states that the best strategy for responding to poor air quality conditions is to avoid exposure to outdoor air by staying indoors as much as possible with the windows and doors closed. For persons who must be outdoors, N95 respirators will provide some level of personal protection against the harmful particles of wildfire smoke, but must fit well and provide a tight seal around the wearer’s mouth and nose. In some cases, masks can make certain health conditions worse because it takes more effort to breathe through a mask. DPH will be providing N95 respirators for the unsheltered population in coordination with HSA and HSH. The Plan recommends that City Departments maintain a stock of N95 respirators for employees who must perform critical outdoor functions.
The Emergency Plan includes guidance on proper use of N95 respirators, and that guidance is also reflected in the public messaging toolkit. N95 respirators can only help when fitted properly.
Public Respite Centers
The City Administrator’s Office has identified public facilities that are well suited to serve as cleaner air and/or cooling respite centers, and facilities that could serve as respite centers with investments in ventilation, air conditioning systems, and window upgrades. Going forward, the City Administrator’s Office will work with partner agencies to recommend an equitable level of service for cleaner air and cooling centers in San Francisco and strategic investments in public facilities.
DEM is compiling a roster of City personnel across all Departments who meet new baseline training and experience requirements for potential future mutual aid deployments. This roster is separate from existing public safety mutual aid plans and includes staff from sixteen City Departments. DEM is also compiling a roster of deployable City personnel who have additional credentials or subject matter expertise often requested during or immediately following a disaster.
Regional Coordination – Public Outreach
DEM and DPH collaborated with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Association of Bay Area Health Officers, Regional Joint Information System, and the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative to determine coordinated and standardized health messaging across Bay Area counties. The communications toolkit, to be finalized and approved by regional partners, includes guidelines for communicating with hard-to-reach populations, such as people with access and functional needs, including people with disabilities, older adults, immigrant populations and people with limited English proficiency. Once finalized, the toolkit will be translated into all threshold languages in the Bay Area.
The Memo from the City Administrator’s Office, DEM, and DPH also identifies immediate, short- and long-term steps to further plan for and mitigate poor air quality and extreme weather events. Resources have been identified to conduct additional technical analysis on existing facilities to determine the appropriate level of investment in those facilities. In addition, the City has identified funding to facilitate the deployment of portable air filtration and cooling units.
The City will address any potential service gaps caused by poor air quality and extreme weather events by collaborating with community-based and non-profit organizations that serve and are trusted by vulnerable populations. Mother Brown’s Dining Room is one example of how community centers can provide heat relief to vulnerable populations in San Francisco. Mother Brown’s is a homeless shelter in the Bayview that participated in the City’s Resilient Bayview Heat and Poor Air Quality Resilience Program. With the City’s assistance, they secured grant funding from The San Francisco Foundation for an air conditioning unit and solar-powered generator, and during the most recent heat wave were able to provide heat relief for 60 homeless individuals.
A more complete list of next steps is included in the Memo submitted to Mayor Breed. DEM, DPH, the City Administrator’s Office, and City agencies are working to implement the identified actions.