Disaster Planning

Our goal: Make our cities resilient in a major earthquake.


Blog Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Thanks to the threat of sea level rise, prolonged drought and the possibility of natural disaster brought on by climate change, the Bay Area could soon face devastating damage. How can we get ready for climate change before disaster strikes? SPUR invited designers and city planners to discuss lessons learned from the Rebuild By Design competition that helped revitalize the Northeast Coast after Hurricane Sandy.

Article Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Resilience and adaptation have become buzzwords in public policy, but the experience of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina shows how imperative these ideas are as we face a changing world. SPUR's recent city trip to New Orleans brought back lessons from planners, engineers, policymakers and residents who are tackling pressing challenges that were neglected for generations, yielding exciting ideas and impressive results. 

Article Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Not so long ago, it seemed to many that New Orleans might be done for, the first city to succumb to the existential threats of our age. But a decade after Hurricane Katrina, the Crescent City is back — and may be better than ever. What can we learn from New Orleans about what really makes a place resilient?

Article Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014 began as the driest year ever recorded in California. It is likely to close out as the fourth driest year in more than a thousand years — even with our recent storms. The worst drought in more than 30 years is forcing the state to reckon with its anachronistic water management system, and to find solutions for this century’s changing climate and growing population.

Blog Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Last Thursday, on the 107th anniversary of the 1906 Earthquake, SF Mayor Ed Lee signed the mandatory soft-story retrofit program into law. SPUR has long advocated for this legislation, which will help make San Francisco more resilient in a major earthquake.


Our Priorities for Disaster Planning


When we select engineering standards for buildings and lifelines, we are really choosing how many deaths, how many building demolitions, and how long a recovery time we have for various levels of earthquakes. SPUR believes that San Francisco must adopt clear performance objectives for determining how our buildings should perform, with an eye towards facilitating a rapid and effective recovery after a major earthquake.


There are many things we could be doing right now to improve the safety and performance of San Francisco's existing buildings, new buildings (i.e. those yet to be built) and lifelines. In a February 2009 report, SPUR recommended policy steps including retrofitting the most vulnerable structures, upgrading our building code to ensure new buildings are built better, and forming a lifelines council to help coordinate upgrades to our critical utility systems.


When disaster strikes, San Franciscans must be prepared. We need to be ready to care for family members, assist our neighbors and work effectively in teams and alongside first responders and other emergency workers. We will need adequate stores of water, food and supplies to support a citywide response. Comprehensive public disaster education and neighborhood-based training and resource coordination are necessary for engaging all residents of the city in an ongoing preparedness effort.


San Francisco needs to be thinking not just about the days and weeks following a disaster, but the months and years it will take to rebuild our city and our region. This means developing plans for how to access and make the best possible use of recovery funding. When the Big One strikes, we should be prepared to rebuild San Francisco rapidly and in accordance with our best-laid plans to help make our city stronger and more resilient.

Disaster Planning Projects


Which existing buildings must be retrofitted and to what standard of performance? How do we encourage better performance from our new buildings? How do we shore up our vital services and infrastructure so that our buildings are serviceable after an earthquake? SPUR has established a "Before the Disaster" task force to focus on what we should do now—before a major earthquake—to make sure we can recover quickly. We published our findings and recommendations in a series of policy papers.


When a disaster strikes, are we positioned to rebuild our city even better than before? What plans and systems of governance must be in place for San Francisco to be effectively positioned to rebuild? What lessons are to be learned from the recent recovery experiences in New Orleans, lower Manahattan and beyond? These are some of the questions SPUR will address in a forthcoming series of four major policy papers on disaster recovery as it relates to transportation, housing, planning and governance.


This effort focuses on planning for the days and weeks following a major earthquake by creating a culture of preparedness. The first step toward creating a culture of preparedness is individual awareness and self-reliance. The second step is community awareness, cooperation, planning and preparedness. SPUR has recommended several steps towards creating a culture of preparedness, including strengthening the City's Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) program, establishing community disaster response hubs and improving public information in San Francisco's neighborhoods.


The Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety (CAPSS), a project of the Department of Building Inspection, seeks to develop programs for privately owned buildings that help reduce earthquake risk. In February of 2009, CAPSS project delivered a major report detailing recommendations for the upgrade of multiunit, wood-frame, soft story buildings. SPUR is pleased to be a participant in CAPSS and looks forward to working to help CAPSS continue its important work.

Disaster Planning Updates

To get updates on SPUR's disaster planning policy efforts contact SPUR Deputy Director Sarah Karlinsky at skarlinsky@spur.org.