How one leader prepped for trauma by organizing a ‘Tsunami Walk’

She’s been a fixture on the San Francisco political scene since making history in the 1970s as the campaign manager for Harvey Milk, the first openly gay public official ever elected to office in California. Milk was gunned down in his office, as was San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, by former Supervisor Dan White in 1978.

“I kind of got into emergency management through a back door,” says Anne Kronenberg, the executive director of emergency management for San Francisco city and county. “When someone is killed in office—assassinated—as Harvey [Milk] was...that’s about the biggest emergency you can imagine!”

Kronenberg has a Masters degree in Public Administration, and has extensive high-level government work experience, including having worked for California Assemblyman John Vasconcellos and for Senator Ted Kennedy. She’s now in her third year as San Francisco’s emergency management director, after 16 1/2 years as a deputy director of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health. In that position, Kronenberg gained experience in disaster and mass casualty event preparation. She administered San Francisco’s year-long response to the H1N1 outbreak in 2009-10, which administered approximately 400,000 doses of vaccine against the virus.

She was appointed to her current position by then-mayor (now Lieutenant Governor) Gavin Newsom, who cited her health background as a major factor in his decision. Newsom was quoted by SFGate as saying, “everyone seems to love her, and what you want is a collaborator.”

That’s been Kronenberg’s greatest asset throughout her decades-long career in public service. “It’s about building relationships,” she says, and her approach to preparing the citizens of San Francisco to weather a disaster encourages them to do just that. Because, “you can’t rely on the government to come save you,” her preparedness initiative goes out into the culturally diverse neighborhoods of San Francisco with events designed to help people get to know each other, so they can help each other survive catastrophe. She cites the first ever “Tsunami Walk” during National Tsunami Preparedness Week (March24 to 31) in which emergency management staff hosted a gathering of the residents of the coastal areas of the city at the beach, and they walked the tsunami evacuation route together.

She cites “sharing apps” like AirBNB, and others as the inspiration for SF72, which is now in beta testing in San Francisco. “You could go on there and say, ‘I need a generator’, and a neighbor down the street might see it and say, ‘I have a generator you can use’, or you could say, ‘I have an extra bedroom’ and a neighbor who lost his house could come and stay. Twenty years ago, the focus was a lot different. It was more of a top-down focus.”

When asked how San Francisco is prepared for a disaster, compared to how it was in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck, she recalls then-mayor Art Agnos giving the order to “Activate the EOC!”, and describes the Emergency Operations Center as a dust-filled room with a few tables in it. “The tables each had a wooden box on top, which was locked, and no one had the key!” When someone finally produced a key, and the boxes were unlocked, each box contained a single telephone that didn’t work. Now, the EOC is activated for special events throughout the year, such as Fleet Week, the America’s Cup, and the Giants’ World Series victory parade. San Francisco has made huge strides since Loma Prieta, but there is still a long way to go.

“There are so many people who have everyday emergencies. They worry about how they’re going to pay the bills, so the thought of putting together a disaster preparedness kit can overwhelm them.” The DEM’s slogan, “You’re more prepared than you think you are” aims to take the fear out of disaster preparation, by showing people that they can do little things here and there to increase their readiness. “People will not be prepared if they’re afraid.”

That was one of the greatest lessons she learned in January 2013, when she was a Harvard National Preparedness Leadership Initiative delegate to Israel. She was part of the 8th cohort, which is a group of 50 people, in the six-month program, whose mission was to help its members “figure out how to lead not just troops, but how to lead policy makers.”

The hosts, the Emergency and Disaster Management Division of the Israel Ministry of Health, led a delegation which included representatives from the Red Cross, FEMA, and the Center for Disease Control, among others, on tours of war-torn areas on the Gaza Strip. It was striking, she said, how resilient the people were. “Resiliency is taught from childhood [in Israel]. I asked a man, ‘How can you live here, with rockets flying over your head every day?’ and he said, ‘Why would I leave? This is my home.’”

The delegation toured a hospital, where the Israeli Ministry of Health initiated a toxicological event drill, about which the staff had no prior warning. The hospital staff had to run the drill while still taking care of actual patients—including those in the emergency room. “We couldn’t get away with that here,” she said, but “it was amazing.”

The Ministry aims to return citizens’ post-trauma lives to normal as quickly as possible. “They have the scene cleaned up within three hours.”

Kronenberg speaks with pride of the relationships her department has begun to build with members of the military who come to San Francisco for Fleet Week every year. “During Fleet Week, an LCAC (Landing Craft Air Cushion-hovercraft) came right up onto the beach. After [Hurricane]Sandy, the mayor of New York said he thought they were being invaded...but we’ve built this relationship, so we know they’re here to help.”


Melina Moraga is a freelance writer and blogger whose law enforcement experience includes service as a correctional officer, a 911 dispatcher, and a campus police security supervisor. She welcomes comments at:, or at