Disasters are Coming, But There's Nowhere to Stay

The constant threat of major disaster is a way of life in earthquake-, drought-, and landslide-prone California. In San Francisco, where civic leaders stress the inevitability of a temblor on the scale of the 1906 quake within the next 30 years, so is being unspeakably ill-prepared.

1906 was a 7.8 quake on the San Andreas fault. If that happened today, as many as 64,500 people would need immediate shelter — and another 250,000 would be displaced, but would somehow not need a bed — according to a recent city controller's report.

Dealing with that mass of survivors would require more staff than the city's Human Services Agency has handy — by a wide margin. To be precise, the city would be short 22,030 disaster workers.

This is a high-end, worst-case-scenario estimate. But it's certainly possible. So what to do? Hordes of volunteers will be needed, along with larger and easier-to-staff shelters. The above numbers assume no shelters hold more than 500 people, but if the city does convert large spaces into “mega-shelters,” then there are still only 35,000 shelters beds in the city.

Survivors will also likely be shipped out of the city following a quake — where, as it happens, two-thirds of HSA staffers live already, thanks in part to the housing crisis.

Development has also taken another toll: The staging area for federal relief supplies was Candlestick Park, which is now a construction zone, and no alternate site has yet been determined.

This is troubling. But the city has taken some action. In case of disaster, there is a deal in place to offer “alternative housing” between the city's Department of Emergency Management…and Airbnb. Now might be a good time to list that spare dormitory.

View Comments