June: Responding to the Berkeley Tragedy
On 16 June 2015, the sudden collapse of a balcony at an apartment complex in Berkeley, California triggered the most significant consular emergency response the Department has led since the Asian Tsunami of 2004. Six young Irish people died that night, and seven others were seriously injured.
Ireland’s Consul General in San Francisco, Philip Grant, was alerted to the incident as soon as the Berkeley first responders realised that those affected were Irish J1 students. With around 1,000 Irish J1 students in Berkeley and San Francisco each summer, the pool of families potentially affected was wide, and the exceptionally high levels of concern in Ireland reflected this.
Within an hour the Department’s Crisis Centre in Dublin was fully staffed and operational. As calls from the public were soon being received at a rate of several hundred per hour, the Crisis Centre remained open round-the-clock for the next 72 hours as staff worked with concerned families to establish the whereabouts and wellbeing of their loved ones and provide assistance to those who were directly affected.
In San Francisco, the Consulate provided practical support to the families of the Irish students who lost their lives, guiding them through the process of bringing their loved ones home, and assisted the injured students and their families as they recovered. The Consulate and the Irish Immigration Pastoral Centre also together led the response of the Irish community in the Bay Area which rallied to the aid of the many hundreds of other Irish J1 students who needed care and support so far from home.
In December 2015, Consul General Grant and the Irish Immigration Pastoral Centre’s Fr. Brendan McBride received the International People of the Year Award. They accepted this honour on behalf of Consulate and Department staff and the many hundreds of San Francisco area Irish community volunteers that gave so much to assisting our J1 students and their families, demonstrating the very best of the Irish Diaspora spirit.