Resilient San Francisco Strategy

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San Francisco

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Main actors

City Government, Private Sector, NGO / Philanthropy, Community / Citizen Group, Research Institutes / Universities

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 2016/04

The city of San Francisco has developed a resilience strategy that will increase the city's capacity to be better prepared and recover more rapidly from natural disasters and climate change events.

The geographic location of San Francisco makes the city prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires, floods and rising sea levels. Combined with population growth and climate change events, this increased pressure on the city's resilience capacities in terms of infrastructure, social inequity and unaffordability to respond accordingly.

Subsequently in 2014, the city administration embarked on developing a resilience strategy that involved more than 185 individuals, 31 government agencies, and 56 NGO and private sector organizations.  

The Resilient San Francisco strategy was adopted by the city government in April 2016. The strategy is designed to increase the capacity of individuals, communities, public agencies, businesses and systems to survive, adapt and grow, no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience. It includes actions and measures aimed at keeping the population safe in major catastrophes with a focus on improving systems and structures to increase the city’s resilience overall.

Sustainable Development Goals

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
San Francisco, United States

Size and population development
2011: 3,738,000, 1990: 2,961,000 2025: 4,531,000 2010-2015: +1.50% /year

Population composition
48.5% White, 33.3% Asian, 15,1% Hispanic or Latino 6.1% African American, 0.5% Native American,

Main functions
Cultural city, financial center, harbor city, home to the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank and the U.S. Court of Appeals

Main industries / business
Information Technology, Financial Industry, Tourism

Political structure
Consolidated City County with a County Executive (Mayor) and Board of Supervisors (City Council)

Administrative structure
Five broad districts and 36 neighborhoods

In 1906 the city of San Francisco was devastated by earthquake and fire. More recently, in 1989, the Loma Preita earthquake (6.9) caused substantial damage to the city landscape and there is a 76% chance that San Francisco will experience a 7.0 earthquake in the next 30 years. Additionally, climate change has led to frequent drought and serious storm events and by 2100 the sea level is expected to reach 66 inches, risking flooding the city in the course of an earthquake.

In the Resilient San Francisco Strategy the city administration has outlined four objectives to tackle natural disaster and climate change events.

  1. Plan and Prepare for Tomorrow - building the city’s capacity to handle today’s challenges and tomorrow’s disasters. The fields of action are land use planning, recovery planning and earthquake planning and preparedness. 
  2. Mitigate, Adapt and Retrofit - addresses the risks of an imminent and large earthquake, a changing climate and rising sea levels.
  3. Ensure Housing for San Franciscans Today and After a Disaster - The city plans to address housing and homeless crises by introducing innovative policies and programs.
  4. Empowering Neighborhoods through Improved Connections - Resilient, healthy and cohesive neighborhoods will be encouraged and sustained to build the ground for effective resilience policies.

The key implementation actions of the Resilient San Francisco strategy include:

  • A new office of Resilience and Recovery 
  • Create capacity to house a population expected to grow to 1 million residents by 2040.
  • A disaster housing and governance plan for long-term recovery
  • Launching a regional resilience design challenge
  • Constructing a disaster-resilient waterfront by 2040
  • Seismic retrofit of vulnerable buildings and set a higher level of safety for new buildings
  • Advance citywide adaptation planning for sea level rise.


  • 2000 people (individuals, neighborhood groups, community-based organizations) will be trained by NERT, a free training program run by the San Francisco Fire Department. NERT staff will provide instruction in the basics of personal preparedness and the skills required to assist the Fire Department in emergency situations.
  • Access to mental health services, public health care facilities and emergency medical response infrastructure shall be expanded and strengthened.


  • The SF72 platform integrates services such as Alert SF from the Department of Emergency Management. AlertSF is a notification system sending warnings in case of tsunamis, flooding or disrupting traffic.
  • An earthquake early-warning system, ShakeAlert, is being developed by the U.S. Geological Survey with the assistance of the University of California (Berkeley), the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Sewer system

  • The sewer systems will be upgraded and the water supply system assigned to fire protection improved and expanded.

Climate change

  • The city of San Francisco has adopted a zero-waste strategy and is committed to use 100 % renewable energy by 2025.
  • Additionally, the city has initiated several additional projects, such as creating new urban parks, planting trees and drought-resistant vegetation and is working toward have every second trip/ride on sustainable transportation by 2025.

The San Francisco municipal government is the lead agency for the project. Many stakeholders are involved in the development and implementation of the strategy. The Rockefeller Foundation, NGOs, public agencies and the private sector are contributing both financially and to the implementation of the Resilient San Francisco strategy.

Measuring the results of the Resilient San Francisco strategy is difficult as the challenges are complex and the responses are multi-sectoral. By 2018, the city administration will have completed a review of the city’s current policies, procedures and programs to determine what needs to be adapted/ changed and what already works.

The Resilient San Francisco strategy is helping to build  community engagement by participation in public programs that will enable more people to assist in times of emergency. Moreover, new technology allows residents to benefit from an early and reliable hazard warning system. Social media channels used to educate and motivate the public has influenced residents to increase their personal resilience capacity.

In 2013, San Francisco participated in the first round of the “One Hundred Resilient Cities” (100RC) initiative supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Since then, city representatives have met and worked with 30 government agencies and over 50 community-based organizations and private sector partners with the objective of developing an action-oriented strategy to advance urban resilience in San Francisco. Workshops with partners, community groups and city officials allowed experts within individual fields and policy areas to contribute their knowledge of resilience to the process. This collaborative and participative method has helped build solid working relationships between the stakeholders and bring cross-sectoral expertise to the strategy.

The city of San Francisco collaborates with other cities including Rotterdam, Christchurch, Los Angeles, Oakland and Berkeley on the development and implementation of a Resilience strategy.

Resilient San Francisco, Stronger Today, stronger tomorrow. City and County of San Francisco

San Francisco neighborhood models resilience planning from the grassroots up, Citiscope, Justin Gerdes, May 7, 2014

Climate change prompts resiliency strategy in San Francisco, SF Examiner, April 13, 2016,

Latest Findings on Disaster Resilience: From Burma to California via the Rockefeller Foundation, iRevolutions, ,

Bay Area: Resilient By Design Challenge,

External links / documents

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Jakki Mann
Melbourne , Australia

Jakki Mann

Individual | Project Manager, Circles of Sustainability

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