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Sustainability Plan / Risk Management / Introduction

 The purpose of addressing environmental risk management in this plan is to assess the primary risks of major, single-cause environmental damage to the City of San Francisco, and to suggest a strategy for minimizing them. San Francisco’s diverse manufacturing, shipping, transportation and other commercial activities, and its dense population, make it likely that certain acute events, or “disasters” will occur. For example, San Francisco, like all cities, experiences fires, hazardous materials incidents, and structural failures. These disasters have the potential to affect the City’s long-term sustainability by causing loss of life; poisoning the air, water, and land; and destroying buildings which would otherwise serve succeeding generations.

The Bay Area is a high-risk region for earthquakes, that may, if sufficiently powerful, have the broadest impact on the most people. Furthermore, earthquakes may trigger other events that pose acute risks, such as fires or toxic releases. Therefore,
a major earthquake is the most likely disaster that could have a long-term impact on the city.

Separate from earthquakes, other acute risks may occur in isolated incidents. Although these are less likely to affect long-term sustainability, they are addressed in this plan as integral to earthquake response. A list of the more probable acute risks includes:

  • Toxic releases from facilities and vehicles (rail, truck);

  • Fires and explosions;

  • Oil spills in the Bay; and

  • Inundation and soil structure failures.

Preparedness is the key response to these risks. Preparedness will -- by reducing personal, environmental and property damage -- protect San Francisco’s sustainability in the wake of these events. Being prepared is more than accumulating sufficient supplies; it extends to the training, resources, and emotional preparedness needed to move people to action and coalesce them into effective “action teams.” The strategy outlined in this section describes actions to be taken by both the public and private sectors.

With two major terrorist incidents occurring on U.S. soil in the past five years (bombings at the World Trade Center in New York City and the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City), consideration might also be given to the potential effects of civil unrest and terrorism. Mitigation measures are best taken at the state and federal levels, but additional consideration should be given to improving the security of the existing and future infrastructure of the City.

Sustainability depends upon the health and well-being of the City’s population, as well as protection of the environment in which we live. Urban disasters produce environmental impacts that will permanently affect the environment. The strategy devised in this section is intended to provide for the most rapid response possible in the event of a disaster in order to minimize loss of life, property damage, and environmental damage.