Disaster field training exercises credited for integrated regional response to San Francisco Bay Bridge maze collapse


San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom
Photo By John Han
Sentinel Photographer
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

By Pat Murphy
Sentinel Editor & Publisher
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

Disaster training sessions prior to collapse of the MacArthur Maze Sunday smoothed the way for integrated regional response, Mayor Gavin Newsom stated in San Francisco today.

Field exercises conducted over the past year familiarized state, county and local emergency service providers with one another as well as protocols for disaster response used by each agency, Newsom related in an 11:30 a.m. San Francisco City Hall press conference.

The training paid off Sunday, he said.

“The value of our field exercises paid off immeasureably,” reported the San Francisco mayor.

“Everyone recognized everybody. Everyone had protocols well established.

“There was familiarty to the effort and that was because of the regional training that we had been doing, both inhouse exercises that we call ‘tabletop’ exercises, as well as the field exercises.

Photo from the Office of the California Governor

“That’s important – the notion of constancy. You got new players. You got a new mayor in Oakland. You got a new mayor in San Jose. You got a new directors of emergency services.

“So we’re constantly have to train, retain, train.”

No breakdowns in communication occured Sunday as did during a California tsunami warning in June, 2005, Newsom stated.

Laura Phillips, Executive Director of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, echoed the value of training.

“It’s the drills. It’s the tabletops. It’s the relationships in advance of emergency, knowing each other, knowing how to communicate with each other effectively — I think that’s really the key to this,” Phillips noted.

“It’s a marriage somewhat in the super-urban area in working together.. and really pull together effectively and really turn things on.”

Workers began stabilizing the damaged sections of the interchange Sunday evening, California Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Haus said today.

“It sounds kind of ironic, but … before they tear it down, they have to shore it up,” Haus said.

“As soon as they clear the wreckage from the top deck, then they can clear the wreckage from the bottom deck” and see what work needs to be done,” he said.

Caltrans estimates the cost of the demolition work will run around $2 million, agency spokesman John Cunliffe said.

Prior major emergency repair projects such as construction on state Highway 1 at Devil’s Slide in San Mateo County have ended up being fully funded by the federal government, he said. But it’s too early to know how the costs of the Maze repair project will be divided, he said.

A connector ramp in the Maze that moves traffic from eastbound Interstate Highway 80 to eastbound Interstate Highway 580 collapsed after a tanker carrying around 8,600 gallons of gasoline slammed into a guardrail and ignited around 3:45 a.m. Sunday.

The tanker was headed westbound on Interstate Highway 80 toward southbound Interstate Highway 880 when it crashed and set off a blaze so intense that a stretch of the Highway 80 to Highway 580 connector around two-and-a-half football fields in length, above the ramp, gave way and tumbled onto the roadway below.

Haus didn’t want to estimate how long it would take crews to clear the wreckage from the lower ramp but said it was more than a matter of days.

Contractor Cleveland Wrecking, which has been working on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge retrofit project, pulled some of its equipment over to the Maze to help with demolition, Haus said.

Heat from the fire Sunday reached temperatures as high as 2,750 degrees Fahrenheit. Even if the section of Highway 880 where the collapsed section fell seems OK at first glance, structural engineers will still have to test the integrity of the steel throughout the roadway to see what repairs need to be made, he said.

That assessment can’t take place until the damaged roadway is cleared away and engineers can inspect what remains, Cunliffe said.

Additionally, estimates of the project’s cost and the timeline of repairs can’t be made until then, he added.

“There’s a lot of unknowns here,” Haus said. In a worst case scenario pillars that support the ramps would have to be replaced, adding to the cost of the project, he said.

On Sunday Caltrans spokeswoman Lauren Wonder said the entire repair project could, “unofficially,” take months.

Haus said he believed the steel required for the project had been secured but had no estimate of the cost.

Caltrans secured an emergency contract Sunday evening to get to work right away on the repairs.

Some Caltrans workers have been pulled off other projects, but it doesn’t look like the agency will have to look for workers for this project from outside its current pool of staff. That said, “resources are not unlimited,” Cunliffe said.

The availability of steel could determine how quickly repairs are made to the portion of the MacArthur Maze that collapsed after a fuel tanker crashed and ignited Sunday morning, Caltrans Director Will Kempton also reported today.

“We will be searching the countryside for steel that will be used for the upper structure” that collapsed, Kempton told reporters at a briefing near the site of the crash and spectacular fire that reached temperatures as high as 2,750 degrees Fahrenheit.

He said, “You can’t just buy steel off the shelf at the hardware store.”

Kempton said Caltrans hopes to find a U.S. source for the steel needed for the project but will consider buying steel overseas if necessary.

He said Caltrans hopes to complete an assessment of the damage to the I-880 connector by the end of the day on Tuesday.

Kempton said he hopes the damage to the I-880 connector is “minimal,” in which case it could be repaired and reopened “in a relatively short period.”

But “all bets are off” if the damage is severe and there are structural problems, he said.

Kempton said Federal Highway Administration officials were at the explosion site today. He said he’s hopeful the officials will agree that the repair work is eligible for federal emergency relief funds.

He said members of California’s congressional delegation tentatively are expected to tour the site on Friday.

Kempton said Caltrans is assessing the strength of the I-880 connector in a variety of ways, including visual inspections, x-rays and gauging its tension to see what kinds of loads it can support.

“We won’t put people on an unsafe structure,” he said.

In related developments, both morning and evening commutes today were lighter than expected, officials reported.

And several news organizations are reporting tonight that James Mosqueda, the driver of the tanker truck involved in the MacArthur Maze collapse, struggled with drugs and has been convicted of a property-damage hit-and-run among more than a half dozen arrests and several convictions, citing court documents.

He was convicted in 1981 in Yolo County for burglary of an inhabited dwelling and in 1991 for residential burglary, according to reports.

He pleaded guilty in 1993 in Sacramento County to possessing hypodermic needles stemming from a 1993 police stop in which officers said that they found heroin and needles. He was sentenced to three years of probation.

Later in 1993, Woodland police arrested him in a parking lot on suspicion of possessing methamphetamine. No conviction is noted in the file.

He pleaded guilty in 1994 to receiving stolen computers and was sentenced to four years probation.

He was caught with drugs twice in 1996, the second time with heroin. He pleaded guilty to drug possession in Sacramento County as part of a plea bargain to serve two years and eight months in state prison.

Other arrests since 1974 include petty theft, possessing marijuana for sale, and carrying a loaded firearm. It was unclear if he was charged or convicted in any of those cases.

Mosqueda’s last criminal court record dates to 1996. In 2004, he appears to have tried to have the receiving stolen goods expunged from his record. The Sacramento County District Attorneys Office opposed the action.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer said Monday she will make a visit later this week to the portion of the MacArthur Maze that collapsed after a fuel tanker crashed and ignited Sunday morning.

Boxer will be joined by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and members of the California congressional delegation on the Friday visit, according to a statement from Boxer’s Web site. Boxer spent part of Monday in a conference call with Peters and the head of the Federal Highway Administration, Richard Capka.

See Related California Governor Schwarzenegger declares maze collapse state of emergency

Bay City News contributed to this report

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