San Bruno California, September 9, 2010 Gas Pipeline Explosion and Fire

On September 9, 2010 a buried high pressure 30-inch steel natural gas pipeline exploded in a residential neighborhood in the City of San Bruno, California, a suburb of San Francisco. The explosion and ensuing fire killed 8 and injured 58, and destroyed 38 and damaged 70 homes. During the first 50 hours following the incident, over 500 firefighters and 90 apparatus responded, involving 42 fire agencies. The total cost of the disaster is estimated to be approximately $1.6 billion. Local and regional jurisdictions have been engaged in extensive and sophisticated recovery and reconstruction operations, which continue as of this writing. This report, funded by the National Science Foundation under a RAPID grant, is based on site visits, interviews, and secondary data collection, and addresses emergency response and recovery from two perspectivesengineering and social science. Causes of the explosion were examined by the National Transportation Safety Board and are not considered in detail. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with public officials of the principal fire and emergency services and with representatives of non-profit organizations active in the area. Team members made several site visits from immediately after the event in September 2010 to February 2011. Key findings and research issues identified include the following. First, there are difficult theoretical and practical questions about the ability of infrastructure organizations to maintain their attention on their own operations over long periods, resulting in degrading safety and reliability. Second, there are similarities between this isolated event and what may occur in a major earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area. This event was well responded to; in a major earthquake, similar resources are likely to be unavailable, potentially leading to significant secondary (i.e., fire following earthquake) losses. Third, three current engineering risk methods for estimation of safety zones around gas transmission lines were examined and generally validated vis-à-vis data from the incident. Fourth, detailed timelines and actions by emergency responders and recovery officials are recorded, providing a basis for future research on issues of expedient or spontaneous planning in emergencies. Fifth, a georeferenced database of almost 300 photographs of damage resulting from the incident is appended to the report, for use by researchers in examining fire spread and other issues.
Explosion, Fire-Case Studies, Emergency Response, Fire Department