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USF is a Homeland Security Resource

08-07-2014
Father Paul Fitzgerald, USF’s President

Attendants of this year’s Homeland Security and Disaster Response Conference were pleasantly surprised when Father Paul Fitzgerald, USF’s new President, showed up unexpectedly and encouraged everyone to use the University of San Francisco as a resource for support on all matters of homeland security and public safety. “Please do consider USF a resource. Consider it an intellectual home for you, consider it a place where you can come to share your own expertise, and then profit from the experience and the insights and analysis of your peers. If there are other things that we can do to help you professionally, to support you in your career and personal and professional tracks, please let us know. We’re interested in being more and more of a resource for the city, the region, and the world.”

The annual Homeland Security and Disaster Response Conference is hosted at the University of San Francisco and is organized by School of Management Professor Tony Ribera, former Chief of Police of San Francisco and Director of the USF International Institute of Criminal Justice Leadership. The conference’s goal is to bring together the homeland security and emergency response communities of Northern California to evaluate their readiness and share their expertise, and the theme of this conference was collaboration.

Professor Ribera expressed his sincere belief that the only way to tackle emergencies effectively is to know all the departments and people who could possibly be involved in the solution, whether it’s a natural disaster or a man-made emergency. “I was in the stadium for the 1989 World Series when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit. As a cop, I wanted to get into the city as fast as I could to help out. When I made my way out of the stadium, yes, there was chaos, but I saw citizens directing traffic. That made me so proud to be a San Franciscan. That’s the true spirit of collaboration, everyone rolling up their sleeves.”

“After 9/11, leaders and civilians were very frustrated that our federal agencies didn’t collaborate well,” said Professor Ribera. “But how can you have collaboration when you don’t even talk? The President created the Department of Homeland Security, on a federal level, but I think it’s the working relationships of the local police and fire departments, as well as the coastguard and other first responders that make the difference in most emergencies. Since then, the law enforcers in the Bay Area have made a significant effort to have all local departments work together and collaborate.”

San Francisco’s Chief of Police, Greg Suhr, expressed his belief that through events like USF’s homeland security conference the entire Bay Area is now an example of cooperation in emergency preparedness to the rest of the country. “The whole world’s looking at San Francisco and the Bay Area because we’re so interconnected,” he said. “I know that the police department and the fire department, we’re training like we’ve never trained before. We’re talking about earthquake scenarios, we’re doing an intensive training on school shooters, we’re trying to incorporate tech as much as possible into our emergency preparedness. The Sheriff's department in Alameda is going to host Urban Shield again, a Bay Area preparedness exercise in emergency response, and it’s so important that everybody participates in that. Thanks to USF, which really is a place that at least three times a year brings people together to keep having this conversation, because it’s important, and to [keep it fresh].”

Fr. Fitzgerald agreed with Chief Suhr. “This conference continues to be an important series of public education that highlights the public value of our International Criminal Justice Leadership program,” he said.

Chief of Police Greg Suhr

Chief Suhr said that the Bay Area’s excellent collaborative skills were showcased during an airplane crash emergency last year, when Asiana flight 214 struck the seawall just short of the runway at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). “Preparing thoroughly and getting to know each other has never seemed as important as when the Asiana plane went down last year at SFO,” he said. “The airport folks who were first on scene were nothing short of unbelievable. We just handed out 19 medals of valor to those officers. If you’d have seen that scene, everybody there doing what they do best, it’s because they attend events like this, and [they’re prepared], and because they know each other. The fire department was there, collaborating with the police, airport security, [medical staff,] and the FBI officer who was the lead at the crash site let everybody help him. Nobody’s ego got in the way at any point. That’s why it’s so important to be on a first name basis with everybody. Keep that in mind while you’re here,” he said to the conference attendants, “do whatever you can to be prepared and to be able to rely on each other when it happens.”

Professor Ribera said it was very important to him that people know that USF is committed to collaborative efforts in emergency preparedness. That’s why it was so great that Father Fitzgerald made the time to stop by. The audience knew, this University is making a commitment. Not just Tony Ribera and not just the Dean of the School of Management, but the President, too. It’s coming from the top down. An impassioned leader and speaker himself, Professor Ribera recognized the fervor for justice in Father Fitzgerald’s opening remarks. Father Fitzgerald was so energized about using USF as a resource [for Northern California’s emergency preparedness]. What a great way to start a conference on such an important issue. It rubbed off, on my staff, on all the conference participants. That level of enthusiasm just makes you feel great.

Written by Inge Lamboo