San Francisco

‘We're Going to Get Better': Officials Say of SF Heatwave Response

San Francisco public health officials admitted at a hearing Wednesday that they could have done a better job handling the city’s record Labor Day heat wave.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin summoned the officials to answer for the city’s handling of the crisis that left three people dead. NBC Bay Area reported last week that the city’s own timeline of the first day of the record heat shows that officials failed to implement key parts of an extreme heat response plan drawn up in 2006.

Peskin questioned Barbara Garcia, the city’s public health department director, about what happened on Friday, Sept. 1.

“We know it’s too hot and we know that there’s steps that we should be taking,” Peskin said, “I guess asking why did this stuff happen on Saturday and not Friday?”

The city’s extreme heat plan predicted an overload of 911 calls and called for designated air conditioned cooling centers as well as coordinated outreach to the city’s most vulnerable residents. But that did not occur until the day after the city set an all-time heat record of 106 degrees, Peskin said in pressing Garcia for an explanation.

“Again, like you said, we’re going to get better at that,” Garcia said, adding that the National Weather Service did not even predict the record temperatures that actually occurred and claims it was slow to issue an extreme heat warning. “I think we were all surprised by the heat and how fast it started heating up,’’ she told Peskin, who summoned a forecaster with the National Weather Service to appear at the hearing.

“You are always all more than welcome to blame the weather guy -- That’s what we are here for,” said Brian Garcia of the weather service. He said the agency got the 94 degree high forecast wrong because of a slight eastern shift in the dome of high pressure over the area. Then, he said, the typical afternoon breeze failed to materialize.

“Forecasting an all-time record high is next to impossible,” he said. “It’s a very challenging thing to do -- they are all time record highs for a reason.”

But Peskin was not ready to put the blame for what he considers the city’s bungled response on the weatherman, given the apparent failure to execute the city’s extreme heat response plan.

“Our heat response plan very clearly told us that even if we were only going to get to 94 and we didn’t make to 106,’’ the supervisor told his colleagues, “there’s a whole bunch of things that we should have started doing Thursday night and Friday morning pursuant to our plan-- which is not the National Weather Service’s fault.”

Contact Us