April 3, 2006

Golden Gate Ferry and Golden Gate Bridge Play Critical Role

in Responding to Bay Area Emergencies

Tuesday, April 18, 2006, marks the Centennial Anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906. Over the years, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District (District), the operator of the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Ferry and Golden Gate Transit has been instrumental in preparing for and responding to a number of major disasters in the Bay Area.

These vital transportation resources operate daily serving the counties of Marin, Sonoma, Contra Costa and San Francisco. With daily use statistics that include 110,000 vehicles crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, 4,500 Golden Gate Ferry riders, and 28,000 Golden Gate Transit bus passengers, the District has a responsibility to continue these services during local and regional emergencies. Further, the District fully recognizes that it may be called upon for a variety of emergency response services that could include transporting first responders and supplies in and out of disaster-affected areas or assisting in evacuation efforts.

During a disaster or significant emergency, within the resources available, the District provides lifeline transportation service and strives to continue its operations immediately following the incident. Emergency response goals include:

  • providing for employee and customer safety and welfare
  • providing essential emergency information to employees and customers
  • restoring transportation services in the District’s service area
  • providing essential emergency transportation to support the needs of local and regional government’s emergency response activities
  • providing mutual aid resources to other major Bay Area transportation operators

For Golden Gate Transit bus and Golden Gate Ferry, regional emergency contingency planning is coordinated with Bay Area transportation agencies through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. In addition, for Golden Gate Ferry, response coordination is also planned with the U.S. Coast Guard and Water Transit Authority (WTA) under the Regional Maritime Contingency Plan. At the Golden Gate Bridge, emergency response coordination is undertaken collaboratively with the California Highway Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard, San Francisco Police Department, Presidio Fire, San Francisco Fire Department, Golden Gate National Recreation Area Rangers, U.S. Park Police and the Marin County Sheriff’s Office.

The following are a few key examples of the various roles that the District has played in emergency response as the public agency operating the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Ferry and Golden Gate Transit bus system.

1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake

At 5:04 pm, October 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta Earthquake, centered some 60 miles southeast of San Francisco, shook the San Francisco and Monterey Bay regions. Following the 7.1 magnitude temblor, the San Francisco/Oakland-Bay Bridge was closed for a 30-day period to repair the damage caused by the quake.

Following the earthquake, the Golden Gate Bridge, which connects Marin County with San Francisco, suffered no damage and was deemed safe for vehicular traffic. East Bay commuters bound for San Francisco quickly diverted to I-580 across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, and south on Highway 101 to the Golden Gate Bridge. On October 27, 1989, an all-time, one-day traffic record was set with 162,414 vehicles crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. During this time period, the average daily traffic crossing the Bridge was just 120,276.

With some 30,000 to 40,000 drivers diverted from the San Francisco/Oakland-Bay Bridge from the East Bay requiring access to San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Ferry immediately became feasible alternatives.

The Golden Gate Ferry from Larkspur was an easy alternative for East Bay residents with the relatively short trip on I-580 across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. This, coupled with free terminal parking, generated increases in ridership ranging from 30% to as high as 80%, with the average daily increase in ridership hitting 40% over the three months following the quake. Golden Gate Transit bus ridership grew more modestly by approximately 4%.

1982 January Storms

Peaking during the early morning hours of Monday, January 4, 1982, an unrelenting rainstorm slammed the North Bay with 13 inches of rain in just 24 hours. In addition to the mudslides that destroyed or badly damaged 100 homes and flooding that destroyed 2,000 homes, lives were lost.

Residents, virtually cut off from San Francisco, relied primarily upon Golden Gate Ferry to cross the San Francisco Bay. On January 6, 1982, 12,275 passengers, more than six times the weekday ridership, plied the Bay aboard the Golden Gate Ferry from Larkspur.

By sharp contrast, as a result of the mudslides and flooding, by Tuesday, January 5 and Wednesday, January 6, there was virtually no traffic using the Golden Gate Bridge. On Wednesday, January 6, just 3,921 southbound vehicles crossed the Bridge — compared to the average daily southbound norm of 37,936.

BART Strike, September 1997
Twenty-six hundred workers shut down San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system when they went on strike during the week of September 8, 1997. Again, Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry was the choice for many East Bay residents with an increase in ridership of 29% during the strike.

Emergency Drills Play Vital Role

Emergency drills, including both table top and field exercises, are an essential element of emergency preparedness, coordination and response. The three operating divisions (Bridge, Ferry, Bus) of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District regularly participate in emergency response drills. The following are some recent examples:

  • May 2005: exercise included personnel from the Golden Gate Bridge, California Highway Patrol, United States Park Police, Park Rangers, and U.S. Coast Guard, along with 11 other San Francisco, Marin and State emergency response agencies. Two tabletop exercises and a field exercise were conducted around a scenario involving a vehicle-born explosive with a subsequent breach of the Bridge.
  • April 2005: Golden Gate Ferry and Golden Gate Transit bus personnel joined the Marin County Special Response Teams from the Marin County Sheriff’s Office and three local police departments in a field exercise with a scenario focused on a hijacked bus driven to Larkspur Ferry Terminal, and hostages being taken upon arrival at the terminal.
  • February 2005: Personnel from Golden Gate Ferry and seven Marin County fire departments participated in a field exercise focused on mutual aid practices and confined space rescue.
  • December 2004: Golden Gate Ferry participated in a San Francisco Port-sponsored drill at the San Francisco Giants baseball park that included park staff, along with San Francisco police, fire and medical personnel. The exercise included a tabletop drill and a field response drill with a scenario involving hostages, a take-over of a Golden Gate Ferry vessel and an explosive device being detonated aboard the vessel.

Golden Gate Bridge Earthquake Response Plan


The Golden Gate Bridge Earthquake Response Plan (Plan) is updated periodically to include relevant changes that may impact the execution of the Plan. In general, the Plan includes three elements: (1) post–earthquake inspection protocols for Bridge workers, (2) a computer analytical system that rapidly evaluates seismic data transmitted from sensors on the span and then transmits this data to key staff via a paging system, and (3) on-call emergency repair services that maybe required.

An integral part of the Plan is the Bridge’s Seismic Instrumentation Program (Program) which was expanded subsequent to the Loma Prieta Earthquake and is part of a statewide program coordinated through the State of California, Division of Mines and Geology, Strong Motion Instrumentation Program (SMIP). The Program consists of an instrumentation system that measures earthquake ground shaking intensity and Bridge structural response to the shaking which allows staff to better estimate structural damage and to determine the level of physical inspection required. The data, in conjunction with data from other sources, are also used to better understand earthquake behavior. Following an earthquake event, the instrumentation system also allows for more rapid and targeted structural inspection of the Bridge, and the information provided is utilized, in addition to the structural inspections, to analyze the integrity of the Bridge structures after an earthquake and to aid in determination of repair measures.

Installation of the instrumentation system equipment was divided into two phases. In the first phase of work, 76 seismic sensors and 2 recording stations were installed in 1995. In Phase II, 20 sensors were installed at the Marin Approach structures in 2003 and another 4 sensors will be installed in the near future. In 2006, 25 sensors will be installed in the San Francisco Approach structures.