While Shelter-In-Place Orders are in Effect, the SFPUC Stormwatch and Strike Teams Prepare for Rain

According to the National Weather Service, there is a good chance of rain this weekend and potentially through early next week.

Even as residents are sheltering-in-place, the SFPUC is gearing up in preparation for the wet weather. So as most people are indoors, peering out of window sills, the SFPUC’s Stormwatch and Strike Teams are getting ready and watching for the first signs of rain. This work is allowed under the current shelter-in-place order, and the SFPUC is taking all the necessary precautions to ensure crews and the public are kept healthy and safe.  

“My family knows that when a storm is coming, that I am constantly checking the forecast. The team is ready to be deployed at any moment’s notice,” said Chris McDaniel, SFPUC Sewer Operations Manager and Stormwatch Incident Commander. “The Stormwatch Team has been getting rain ready by cleaning catch basins and doing preventative maintenance across the City. We do as much as we can to minimize the impacts of rain.”

“Stormwatch” is a term coined to describe storm preparation and storm response efforts prior to, during, and after rain events by the SFPUC.

Stormwatch efforts start well before rain events. When it rains in San Francisco, the SFPUC is ready to protect communities. McDaniels’ team monitors the weather forecast to deploy resources accordingly. While their to-dos are long, a few key tasks include:

  • Activating an Incident Command structure.
  • Providing timely updates and action plans to key SFPUC staff.
  • Allocating resources from Sewer Operations, Southeast Treatment Plant, Collections System Strike Teams, Water Department’s City Distribution Division, SF Public Works, Communications, Emergency Planning.
  • Ordering deployment of temporary flood barriers.
  • Monitoring the work and safety of field crews.

When rain amounts are expected to be a half of an inch or more, Strike Teams led by Audie Ilejay, SFPUC Supervising Inspector and Strike Team Coordinator, are deployed. Strike Teams are assigned different zones of the City to monitor and clear storm drains (also as known as catch basins) to relieve potential flooding.

In some cases, the SFPUC will deploy temporary flood barriers in the area of 17th and Folsom Streets, a low-lying neighborhood impacted by heavy rains. While this is one of the most challenging and time-consuming efforts in storm preparation, this innovative undertaking helps minimize the impact of heavy rains in this community. Crews deploy and remove the flood barriers starting at midnight to minimize the traffic impacts. This task requires four to six hours to complete. Once the barriers are up, two crew-members stay onsite 24/7 to assist neighbors to get into or out of the buildings.

A photo of the SFPUC Stormwatch crew in alphabetical order by last name: Megan Abadie, Chris Albon, Mitchelle Borja, Eric Burton, Josie Buzon, Erica Coleman, Brian Fok, Audie Ilejay, Mark Middleton, Peter Ng, Tim Paez, Yvonne Palega, Felix Profis, Eddy Redondo, Azim Shaikh, Jonathan Smith.

“We have to be at the ready and work around the clock to make sure the drains are not clogged. A quick response by the Strike Team reduces impacts of flooding and help in ensuring the health and safety of residents during a storm event,” said Illejay. “We saw many drain adopters with their vests and rakes clearing out leaves from their adopted drains. When SF residents see the Strike Teams relieve the flooding at intersections and give the team a round of applause as a way of thanking them, it makes us very happy and it’s a reward itself.”