Homeland Security and Public Safety

Inside SFO: A Tour of the Airport’s Safety Operations (VIDEO)

Emergency Management got a behind-the-scenes look at San Francisco International Airport’s EOC and security operations.

On July 6, Asiana Flight 214 crash-landed at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), resulting in three deaths and 181 injured passengers and crew members. The crash took place eight days after Emergency Management toured the airport for a story about its security operations. We’ve included follow-up comments, but the majority of the information was gleaned during the visit before the crash.

Asiana Flight 214 from Seoul, South Korea, slammed down on San Francisco International Airport runway 28L at approximately 11:27 a.m. By 11:30, the airport EOC had been activated, and by 11:35, emergency personnel were en route to the scene. It was a scenario that safety and security staff had trained for countless times, yet no one is ever sure how ready they’ll be when it happens.

“It’s still a bit surreal,” said Toshia Marshall, emergency planning coordinator for SFO, three weeks after the crash. “We responded and restored the airport’s operation as a team, just as we are working through the recovery process as a team.”

Marshall said the EOC immediately filled with staff from the Airport Commission and federal, state and local agencies, and within a few hours was occupied by San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee and his staff, the San Francisco fire and police chiefs, as well as others.

From the EOC’s standpoint, the response went down just as they had practiced it.

“We’ve concluded that the EOC functioned well and the right people were present to perform the necessary response roles as intended,” Marshall wrote in an email. “As we went along, we did develop other roles that were necessary for improving the communication with other airlines and tenants regarding the response and recovery efforts over the seven-day period that was impacted.”

Marshall said there will be a review of EOC operations, and several debriefing sessions are still to come.

The EOC is the hub from which a major event, such as a plane crash, is monitored, intelligence gleaned and decisions made in what essentially becomes the command center.

The airport is equipped with more than 2,000 cameras, any of which can be called up for view within the EOC, Marshall said during our visit. “When we have an active event, we’ll call up a camera, whether it’s on the runways, the roadways or the terminals. We can see from this center what’s going on as it’s occurring.”

After an event, like a plane crash, notification — email, text messages, phone calls — of the appropriate responders and dispatching of police, fire and medical personnel begins. And in the case of a plane crash, FAA personnel will be on the “red phone.”

Jim McKay  |  Editor

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his wife, Christie, daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout. Jim can be reached at jmckay@emergencymgmt.com.