In normal “peace times” Peter Gallotta serves as the Communications Manager for the SFPUC’s Power Enterprise, where he helps to oversee marketing, education and outreach for the SFPUC’s clean energy programs.
Some of the programs that Gallotta leads from a communications perspective include CleanPowerSF, which serves over 380,000 residential and commercial customers in San Francisco, and Hetch Hetchy Power, which has been providing 100% greenhouse gas free electricity to the City for over 100 years. Gallotta’s background is in environmental policy and marketing. He joined the SFPUC last year after several years working at the San Francisco Department of the Environment. “I love that I get to be both creative and strategic in my role and also be a part of the SFPUC’s work to address the climate crisis and deliver a clean energy future for all San Franciscans,” he shared.
But a few weeks ago, Gallotta found himself in a completely different role. He was called to serve at the City’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. His first inclination was that he was ready to serve and respond.
“I’m here to serve. That’s the exact thought that came into my head when I got the call asking if I would go to the EOC,” shared Gallotta. “It lurched right past any of the initial reservations and hesitations that I had, and before you know it, I was saying ‘yes’ and was jotting down the address of where I needed to show up the next day.”
For Gallotta, getting that call was an instant reminder of why he chose to work in the public sector and why he shows up to work every day. “I believe public service is truly about serving the public — no matter the circumstances,” he said. “These moments only reaffirm that commitment for me and grow my appreciation for the critical role that local government plays in our everyday lives.”
Gallotta was assigned to the Joint Information Center (JIC) in the EOC, which is the central hub for all public communications related to COVID-19 being sent out by the City. The JIC’s initiative is to disseminate public information as quickly, accurately and inclusively as possible. For two weeks, Gallotta served as the Deputy JIC Chief for Content Development and helped lead a team of writers, graphic designers and translators to create fact sheets, social media graphics, door hangers, flyers and other public education content while making sure the materials were understandable and accessible in seven different languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Russian and Arabic.
“What normally might take even one of the most nimble teams days to do, we were able to do in hours. That need for expediency was not lost on any of us. In a crisis like this, information is power and can save lives,” he said. “Thanks to the incredible collaboration, commitment, and talent of the JIC team, the City has been able to act quickly to get new information out to San Franciscans to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Gallotta shared that his experience in the EOC was a “beehave of activity.” He noted the highly organized operations in the JIC and EOC as well as the intensity each day. Prior to his assignment in the EOC, Gallotta had little experience with emergency management or the Incident Command Structure (ICS), but one of the most interesting aspects for him was that the EOC followed a very strict reporting structure. He shared that each unit of the EOC had distinct responsibilities and roles. “These units have Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs. Each unit is also designated a specific vest color and all employees of that unit are supposed to wear their colored vest every day when reporting in for duty,” he shared. “You sign-in and out every day when you come in, and you have to fill out a daily log of all your activities.”
Gallotta shared that an added layer to this EOC activation was also the need to maintain social distancing from colleagues. This was the main reason the EOC’s operations moved from the Department of Emergency Management’s offices at Turk Street to Moscone Center South. “At Moscone, the large ballrooms and conference spaces were transformed into mini war rooms with long folding tables set up with power strips and City employees stationed at least 6 feet apart from one another,” Gallotta said. “The entire operation really enforced the social distancing rules at all times — whether it was for large briefings, team huddles, press conferences hosted on site, or even getting lunch in the mess hall.”
On Gallotta’s last day at the EOC, Mayor Breed came through the JIC during a tour of the operations center. Gallotta shared that Mayor Breed happened to see him and another JIC team member standing a few feet from each other talking. He noted that as she passed by she chided them with a smile, “Is that really 6 feet apart?”
For Gallotta, it has been hard not to feel particularly powerless in this moment in history. One of the hardest moments for him while at the EOC was learning about the first COVID-19 related death. He remembered the sinking feeling in his stomach when he heard the news. “While you know the reality of what you’re up against, when you’re in an emergency response role you feel like your job is to save lives and protect people no matter what. You really become the job,” he shared. “And despite those setbacks, you pick yourself up and carry on because your goal is to win the next battle and ultimately the war.”
After his assignment ended, he has asked himself how to continue helping his community aside from staying home. “Being able to show up to the EOC gave me a sense of purpose and a formal opportunity to give back right now,” he shared. “While serving in an emergency response role may not be something everyone can do, I’m grateful for the chance I had to play a small role in San Francisco’s herculean response effort.”
Gallotta proudly recounted how much he learned from this experience and the opportunity to work with colleagues from across the City family. “It’s an experience I will never forget,” he said.