In 1981, then Mayor Dianne Feinstein founded San Francisco Fleet Week as a celebration of naval services rolling out the red carpet for Sailors, Marines, Coasties, and their families, with a parade of ships, a spectacular air show, and neighborhood festivities.

By 2009, now Senator Feinstein recognized the need to reinvigorate Fleet Week. Joining forces with former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, they tapped Major General J. Michael Myatt (USMC, Ret.) to lead the effort. General Myatt established the non-profit San Francisco Fleet Week Association (SFFWA). Community volunteers were brought together to form a new Board of Directors, including Lewis Loeven, former CIO for the City and County of San Francisco. Mr. Loeven was named Executive Director of the Board and together with General Myatt developed the vision for the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) Program.

To maximize the impact of the traditional liberty call, a network of new partnerships with the military, civilian governments, and private industry was formed resulting in the San Francisco Fleet Week Center for Humanitarian Assistance (the Center).  This unique public-private partnership for civilian/military training and education programs addresses the regional, national, and international need to prepare and respond to crises.

The Center’s signature event is the annual Senior Leaders Seminar (SLS). The SLS brings over 150 government, military, and private sector leaders from around the world for two days of sharing best practices through panel discussions, exercise reviews, and presentations. Leading up to the SLS, emergency responders and military leaders convene for tabletop and live joint civilian/military exercises which are briefed out every year at the SLS. 

Since 2010 the HADR Program includes public outreach events such as the Humanitarian Assistance Village, where the general public can get a first-hand look at military and civilian disaster response equipment.  In 2018, The Center opened the STEM Education Center on the Marina Green where military and civilian organizations put on interactive and static displays demonstrating the wonders of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. Exhibits include robotics, energy, communications, and other STEM-related programs. A full list of this year’s program is on page XXX.

In 2011, a Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) Tabletop Exercise was held to learn the process of how military resources could assist in a post catastrophic event.  Also that year, in response to an earthquake in Van, Turkey, a SFFWA team made up of representatives from the City and County of San Francisco and the private sector met with local officials in Van and provided recommendations on recovery and mitigation. The Van Mission, as well as the response to the 2011 Tōhoku, Japan earthquake, were presented at the SLS. Other topics included the roles of social media and community organizations in disaster response.

In 2012, the Center hosted a Command and Control Functional Exercise and Communications Drill, landing a US Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) at Ocean Beach to simulate the delivery of response equipment, and USMC helicopters at Lake Merced to air lift medical personnel to Moffett Field to participate in a military exchange of capabilities.  At the SLS, attendees heard from speakers and panels on cyber security, law enforcement and firefighting in disaster response, and an international session focused on the Chilean Navy’s role in the earthquake response. ‘

In the spring of 2013, the Center embarked upon another foreign mission visiting Haifa, Israel, with representatives from the City and County of San Francisco and the San Francisco-Haifa Sister City Committee. The delegation organized a symposium on disaster preparedness, and later visited hospitals and emergency operations centers. The Israel Mission was followed by a visit to Al Zaatari, a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, where the delegation toured the camp and interviewed the camp manager on the refugee crisis. With the shutdown of the U.S. government and Fleet Week cancelled, The Center created its first Speakers Series where representatives spoke on the international refugee crisis.

In 2014, the Center and its partners focused on Continuity of Operations and the linkages between government operations and commercially owned lifeline infrastructures in a disaster. To demonstrate the military’s capability to enhance overall patient care within the city following a large-scale disaster, the USMC medical Shock Trauma Platoon arrived at the USCG Air Station SF via MV-22 Osprey aircraft and joined the Shock Trauma Platoon/Forward Resuscitative Surgical System (STP/FRSS) set up at San Francisco Zuckerberg General Hospital. The SLS hosted speakers on resiliency, as well as discussion groups on fuel and power, logistics, and search and rescue. The international session included representatives from the Philippines sharing the response to both Typhoon Yolanda and a simultaneous major earthquake.

In 2015, a full scale exercise was held on the delivery of resources via US Navy Landing Craft Utility (LCU) to the Port of San Francisco. An MV-22 conducted a load drill with the federal US&R Teams 3 & 4 at Moffett Field to exercise how teams could be inserted into disaster areas. The SLS topics included International Public Health in Disaster Response, Technology and Communications, discussion groups on energy, auxiliary power, fuel transfer, communications, and the earthquake response in Nepal. The keynote speaker was the Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz.  

In 2016, San Francisco conducted the DSCA Commodity Points of Distribution (C-POD) Exercise. The resources were transported from the USN ship via LCU to the Port of SF and then to a predetermined C-POD location. Testing this last tactical mile helped to ensure that if San Francisco’s ingress/egress points were limited due to damaged infrastructure, resources would still be able to flow into the city. The SLS focused on the international refugee crisis and the role of foreign assistance, while taking a look at both mechanisms for response and the future of recovery. We also took an in-depth look at innovations in technology and energy, while analyzing risk communications and supply chain disruption.

Building on the lessons learned from the 2011 Fleet Week Medical Tabletop Exercise, the 2017 Fleet Week Exercise Program focused on the logistical requirements for local, regional, State, and Federal entities to support medical surge and logistical operations following a catastrophic earthquake.  The SLS welcomed author Sebastian Junger who spoke on his experiences in Syria, reviewed the Port Reopening Workshop Series, Lifeline Interdependencies, Community Integration in Response, Drones and Cyber Security.  

The 2018 Fuel Exercise brought resources to Pier 96 and tested the FEMA staging area with the Port of San Francisco and other local, state and regional partners.  The SLS honored the 100Year Anniversary of WWI, and conducted topic-based discussion groups on Supply Chain Resilience, Cybersecurity, Faith Based Response to Disasters, and how Tall Buildings will perform during a major earthquake.

In 2019, the exercise program focused on requirements for the successful identification of priority routes and the logistical support needed to reopen those routes in relation to disaster debris management. Lessons learned from nine years of SFFW exercises, including pre-scripting resource and mission requests, identifying landing zones, conducting ramp inspections by the US Navy, and tracking damage assessments by the San Francisco Public Works Department were coordinated in a functional environment at Pier 27.

The SLS reviewed the Route Opening Exercise and discussed Cyber Security: The Nation-State Threat and the Cyber Command Center Response. Day 2 focused on The Effects of Our Changing Climate and the Implications for Policy and National Security

The Center continues to organize training, exercise, and education programs and to work with its many other partners to ensure delivery of valuable information that can be leveraged in support of civilian and military humanitarian assistance and disaster missions.

In 2020, although we were amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, we continued to host SFFW The Virtual Experience with the SLS and Medex online. The SLS focused on cybersecurity and featured General Paul Nakasone, U.S Cyber Command and Director of the National Security Agency. The MEDEX looked at COVID-19 transmission, immunity and epidemic dynamics as well as US Navy and civilian COVID-19 medical research and response.

We were proud to be part of the reopening of San Francisco in 2021 with a full schedule of events for Fleet Week including the air show. Our SLS focused on Virtualizing Mission Critical Functions and DSCA Vaccination Operations. The MEDEX discussed Front Line Worker Resiliency in the Long Response and Ethical Considerations in a Disaster Environment.