911 transport times along San Mateo coast could triple amid Hwy 92 closure

Stephanie Sierra Image
Saturday, January 14, 2023
Hwy 92 closure could delay 911 transport times along San Mateo coast
The Highway 92 closure due to a sinkhole hazard is raising concerns about the impacts on emergency transport times across the coast.

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KGO) -- A massive sinkhole has shut down Highway 92 in San Mateo County indefinitely. The hazard is raising concerns about the impacts on emergency transport times across the coast.

"Neighbors are posting almost every 15 minutes or half an hour, any news on Highway 92?" Half Moon Bay resident Sheryl Young said.

Young is one of at least 15,000 people living along the county's coast side regions directly impacted by the sinkhole that shut down Highway 92. In the event of an emergency, Young says the closest hospital would be Sutter Health in San Carlos.

It usually takes her 35 minutes to get there. Now?

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"I think it could take as long as three hours," Young said.

Highway 92 is a main thoroughfare for the county's bayside and coastal regions to access three of the main hospital systems. As the route remains closed, emergency response and transport times will suffer.

"If a transport is needed, you're probably looking at double or triple the amount of time to get a patient to the emergency department," said Peter Green, a retired firefighter paramedic.

Green is a 42-year veteran EMS worker who has studied the routes in this area. He explains the 92 closure limits the fire engines that are available on the coast as there's only three stations serving the area in Half Moon Bay, El Granada, and Moss Beach.

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"If you go to Palo Alto they have eight fire stations," Green said. "So the coast side fire protection folks are going to be scrambling just like the ambulance crews."

For ambulances, the only clear route for people living in Half Moon Bay, south of the Devil's Slide tunnel, is Highway 1 through Pacifica. But Green estimates the commute times to the three closest hospitals -- Seton Medical Center in Daly City, Kaiser in South San Francisco, and Sutter Mills Peninsula in Burlingame could likely double amidst the closure.

"If there's multiple patients or multiple transports needed it will create more time delays," he said. "They're going to have to rely on helicopters to bring patients out."

Green projects it will be at least one hour, if not more, to get to San Mateo General, Kaiser in Redwood City, and Stanford in Palo Alto.

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Chad Henry, the county's EMS System Operations Manager, says Stanford Lifeflight, which is routinely used along the coast, is adequately staffed and prepared to be deployed, if necessary. But, he added the air resources can only help if the weather cooperates. With the series of storms expected, that could be a concern as rain typically generates more fog following a storm.

"It has to be safe for them to fly," Henry said. "If it's not, they will not make themselves available."

Stephanie Sierra: "What is the county doing to prepare for the impact to response times?"

Chad Henry: "San Mateo County maintains a readily available equipment cache from the state that we use to support local, regional, disaster responses -- including mass casualty events. Really, it's just a supply of materials and medical equipment used to augment the need from EMTs and paramedics that are operating on the coast side."

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The I-Team reached out to Caltrans for an update on when the sinkhole closing Highway 92 is estimated to be fixed, but we haven't heard back.

This is leaving Young and her neighbors left wondering: how long will this last? One neighbor on oxygen already left to visit relatives on the Peninsula following widespread power outages.

"It's concerning for all of us," Young said. "This is really a dire situation on the coast."

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