2013’s Northern California Earthquake Exercises: Repeat of 1906 San Francisco Earthquake?

Bloggers Note: Exercise United Response (UR), conducted in October 2011, was the first exercise among 54 state and territory National Guards to test the National  Governors Association’s Dual Status Command (DSC) concept. The DSC is a model that emerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 for organizing National Guard (state troops) and Active Duty (Federal Troops) Military under a single commander.  UR ’11 revealed the following: first, when  used properly a DSC empowers State Governors to rapidly slice through  federal bureaucratic red tape to acquire active duty military resources to augment state military support; second, as the  Public Private Partnerships (PPP) response grows, the demand for additional government resources tend to decline.

The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of planning and simulated emergency response processes for the May 2013  Golden Guardian and August’s Exercise United Response  (UR ’13) and evaluate whether exercise planners and designers:

◾Maximized participation of PPPs;

◾Used a viable Regional Concept Readiness Plan;

◾Defined a center of gravity; and

◾Managed military resources judiciously;

Based on evaluation of the criteria  above, this article concludes with strategic policy and legislative recommendations for improving California’s catastrophic emergency  planning and training.


Private Sector Participation:

Source: San Francisco Bay Area Earthquake Readiness: Concept of Operation Plan (2008)
Source: San Francisco Bay Area Earthquake Readiness: Concept of Operation Plan (2008)

As the geological clock ticks closer to the next major earthquake in Northern California, the potential of a repeat of the 1906 San Francisco Quake grows more imminent as expanding government emergency management processes crowd out public-private partnerships.

At stake is an estimated $95 billion of loses in commercial and residential property when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake rocks the San Francisco Bay Area, according to Risk Management Solutions (RMS) and Stanford University studies. The next big earthquake is expected to kill more than 10 times the estimated 3,000 lives that perished in the 1906 earthquake. For this reason alone it’s critical for government agencies to plan efficient and orderly systems for flowing  government resources to its citizens with a social, political, and economic stake in emergency management operations when the San Andreas or Hayward Faults violently split.

A.P. Giannini, Little Bank of  Italy Banker that eventually became the Bank of America,  was the original disaster response stakeholder. Side note: It's reported that the character George Baily in Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" was based on Giannini.
A.P. Giannini, Little Bank of Italy Banker that eventually became the Bank of America, was the original disaster response stakeholder. Side note: It’s reported that the character George Baily in Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” was based on Giannini.

Perhaps A.P. Giannini, president of the Little Bank of Italy at the time of the 1906 Quake, and eventual founder of the Bank of America, best personifies the resiliency of grassroots stakeholders. Giannini was on scene before any organized government or military response materialized when he sifted through the rubble of his building, gathered $2 million into a garbage wagon, carted it to a dump, and covered it in  garbage for protection. When the City’s fires subsided, he retrieved the money, created a temporary bank consisting of a desk he made from two barrels and a piece of wood pulled from the garbage dump, and started issuing  loans for locals to recover and rebuild from San Francisco’s ashes.

Public-private partnerships playing in UR’11 showed the same Giannini imagination. Represented by the California Utilities Emergency Association (CUEA),   PPPs were poised to send forth both their internal and privately contracted response teams, erect temporary shelters, repair communications,  and provide life-sustaining services vital to populations isolated, displaced, or injured in the aftermath of a 7.9 magnitude earthquake.  Bankers only asked for government transport and  security to move automated teller machines (ATMs) into isolated areas to initiate the flow of money for recovery and rebuilding.  Wireless communication companies and utilities were prepared to commence the restoration of communications and power only needing government and  military transportation.   The PPP input opened  the governments’ eyes and respect for the PPPs preparedness and their untapped potential.

After UR ’11, Bay Area PPPs enthusiastically emerged from the shadows to volunteer for California’s 2013 Golden Guardian and Exercise United  Response ’13.  Among volunteering PPPs were: Bay Area Center for Disaster Resilience  (BACDR) under the leadership of Dr. Pula Scalinigi;  the San Francisco Community Agencies Responding to Disaster (SF CARD); the California Resiliency Agency (CRA); and the California Hospital Association (CHA).

The University of California Berkley’s Resilient and Sustainable Infrastructure Networks (RESIN) volunteered to share improved  earthquake models encompassing an additional series of floods along the San Francisco Delta expected from the next 7.9 magnitude earthquake.  The new study is  significant because the flooding not only  could contaminate drinking water for first responders and Northern Californians, but affect the entire state’s potable water supplies.

Since these organizations are primarily privately  funded, it  was perplexing when the California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA)(now known as the Office of Emergency Services-OES) and the State Military Department summarily dismissed them from the exercises for either government budgetary or  sequestration reasons.

Concept Plan:

FEMA’s strategic Concept planning guidance is fundamentally geared to providing government and  military resource support to grassroots and volunteer efforts.  The San San Francisco Bay Area Earthquake Readiness Response_Concept of Operations PlanFrancisco Bay Area Earthquake Readiness Response: Concept of Operation Plan, drafted September 23, 2008, is the current government plan available for organizing the government support of a Northern California catastrophic earthquake.

Golden Guardian and UR ’13 organizers debated the plan’s merits and relevancy to the point where participating agencies were left to decide for themselves whether to use the plan, use portions  of it, or discard it entirely.  Exercise participants  ultimately resorted to a smorgasbord of scenarios with varying concepts for providing government disaster assistance. Gen. George S. Patton might have agreed that it would be prudent to use an available plan rather than no plan when he said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect Plan executed next week.”

The lack of planning discipline was mirrored by the absence of conformity in exercise management. At best case, each  of 2103’s two earthquake exercises cost a minimum of $100,000, but more realistically each exceeded a  million dollars when work time, travel, and per diem are considered.  It’s for this reason that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Chuck Fugate says that the Country  cannot  afford multiple jurisdictional exercises and has  encouraged regional exercises. While Cal EMA Secretary Mark Ghilarducci initially attempted to combine the 2013 Golden Guardian with UR ’13, he eventually caved into Cal EMA and military operational staff demands for separate and multiple exercises.

Center of Gravity:

Golden Guardian essentially disintegrated into 19-separate exercises played independently of each other with tenuous links SF_Fireto the central government planning effort. Exercise United Response became an additional exercise primarily focused on military operations. Both exercises lacked a common approach and neither exercise concentrated on a center of gravity, or a point critical to restoring infrastructure vital to opening air, sea, and highway pipelines for flowing in  resources to all 19 regional counties ravished by the simulated quake.

Although the Bay Area Regional Concept plan does not specifically state the center of gravity, it’s a safe bet that it would be the Peninsula. The Bay City is the region’s hub for maritime, airport, and ground transportation upon which the state, national, and international economies rely for trade and commerce.  The San Francisco Delta is the  hub of the state’s water supply.

Restoring the Bay’s docks, repairing airport runways, fortifying chokepoints along the San Francisco Delta to prevent flooding waters from collapsing infrastructure, and fixing the Bay and Golden Gate bridges connecting Isthmus  to the mainland are critical to streamlining  relief assistance to the  region’s residents and minimizing impact on the  world’s economies.  Thinly spreading government resources across 10 to 19 counties in lieu of  concentrating on a disaster’s center of gravity risks congesting response and prolonging recovery as is arguably happening after Hurricane Sandy.

Military Support:

The National Guard  is equipped with unique Homeland Response Capabilities. Photo Credit: California National Guard (Flickr)
The National Guard is equipped with unique Homeland Response Capabilities. Photo Credit: California National Guard (Flickr)

Hurricane Katrina illustrates that the super catastrophe can exceed the Governor’s available military resources and necessitate Federal Active Duty forces to compensate for these shortfalls. It also bore out the Posse Comitatus Act dilemma created when National Guard and Active Duty Forces share the same ground for a domestic catastrophic emergency mission.

The Posse Comitatus Act limits the Federal Government’s authority to use Federal Military Forces to enforce state laws, or in laymen language, taking over the state’s response mission. The National  Governors Association’s Council of Governors remedied these authoritative lines by creating the dual status command (DSC). The DSC allows the Governor to rapidly acquire federal military forces and consolidate them with National Guard forces under a single National Guard Commander, or the  DSC.  The DSC takes his direction from the  state’s adjutant General  in accordance with the  Governor’s priorities.

Keenly aware of the Council of Governors intent, and in harmony with Gov. Jerry Brown’s priorities for the State Military, Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin seized opportunities to both test and improve the DSC almost immediately upon the Council of Governors approval in 2011.  Baldwin again proved his leadership when he advised  Gov.  Jerry Brown to request a DSC for  the  2012 California Wild Fires. Baldwin’s instincts were on target and consistent with the National  Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) regional planning objectives for marshalling military firefighting resources to battle blazes in the Western United States.   Most DSC experts  might agree that Baldwin correctly recognized the appropriateness of having a National Guard DSC to replace the pseudo command of a FEMA Regional Defense Coordinating Officer (DCO) as implied in the NIFC plan.

Key members of Baldwin’s staff, however, may have failed to grasp their commander’s intent and vision for perfecting the DSC during UR 13.  In their zeal to employ the DSC the staff worked directly with the San Francisco and Alameda County Disaster Emergency Managers (DEM) to shovel military medical, security, engineer,  transportation, aviation and communications resources into the region unaware of possible PPP relief activities and contracting efforts. In their eagerness to use the DSC, UR 13 role players may have unwittingly undermined the Posse  Comitatus Act by using the DSC in a manner the Council of Governors designed  it to prevent: giving the  appearance of military  assuming control of the state mission.

Unbridled application of  the  DSC poses another legal problem. A UR ’11 lesson  learned was that several PPPs are prepared to contract private entities for disaster relief support.  A lesson that the UR ’13 DSC staff failed to heed when they delivered simulated federal and state military resources without knowing if PPPs plan to contract,  thus potentially violating Section 307 of the Robert T. Stafford Act. Section 307 requires the government to give private organizations and firms contracts for relief activities before providing government resources.


SF quake_ApathyCalifornia’s emergency management community will respond rapidly and effectively if a 7.9 magnitude earthquake rocked Northern California today. The fact that the National Response Framework (NRF) is modeled after California’s response system is confirmation of this claim. Comparing how the 2013 exercises used PPPs with UR ’11, however, displays public-private partnerships unexplored capacity for disaster response  and recovery. Possible methods for uncapping this potential might include:

  • Incentivize the Public Private Partnership Community.Enacting additional tax incentives to encourage private sector membership would generate PPP investment for hiring Emergency  Management graduates in a field that  the Emergency Management Website says is uncertain. Redistributing a FEMA Homeland Security Grants by funneling more into PPPs to hire planners to work with their members while distributing fewer grants to state and federal agencies would shift  more emergency management jobs from the public to private sector with less reliance on taxpayer dollars. Assembly-woman Bonnie RosenthalAssembly-woman Beth Gaines, and Congress member Doris Matsui have spearheaded legislation bringing Public-Private Partnerships into California’s  emergency response community, perhaps California’s 2013 Exercises will further champion  their  vision.
  • Farm Out All Aspects of Strategic/Regional Planning and Exercises to Private Sector Contractors.  Hire Emergency Management Contractors to draft  all Regional Concept Plans, design and assess an annual exercise, and complete the After Action Reports. This removes any arguments about the merits or relevancy of regional plan.  Government Planners could focus on nesting their operational plans into the Regional Plan contractors develop with emphasis of “violently executing” it  during exercises and actual events.  Contractors would be in a position to “perfect” the Regional Plan for the next disaster if they design the exercise to test the plan and generate the measures  to assess its  effectiveness, and structure improvement plans for preparing  government for the  next exercise  or actual event.
  •  Regulate Exercises:  Authorize only one exercise annually and require all county,  state, and  federal  government agencies to simultaneously participate in it . Independent exercises are not an option.
  • Integrate the Academic Community.  Encourage RESIN and other disaster  academic representatives to become an  integral  part  of disaster planning and testing.  The academic community’s input  will create flexibility by preparing emergency managers to adjust  when the magnitude of a disaster exceeds expectations such as the case with Katrina.
  • Subordinate the DSC to Civilian Control.  Station the DSC expertise at the California Office of Emergency Services (OES), where he/she can liaison with the OES Secretary and executives on  the Unified Coordination Group (UCG). The  intent is  to keep military deference to civilian control  in check, and remove temptations for senior  military leaders to lobby elected leaders to seek a DSC for the purpose of career advancement.

The 2013 state earthquake exercises is FEMA’s opportunity  to build on its Public Private Partnership training.  Collectively, the exercises are California’s chance to use  newly discovered PPP capacity for improving emergency response. In the words of former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge:  “…government is incapable of responding to its maximum ability without private sector support…”


  1. I like most of your recommendations, but I do not think it is realistic to limit the State to one exercise per year. The system we use in Illinois it to have 1 major exercise each year and to move it around the state in different regions. I am not sure any State has the ability and capability to do a good statewide exercise with a catastrophic event.

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