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Sandy Post Mortem: Emergency Notification Calls or a Meeting Room

In an emergency, would you like to receive telephone calls, emails and text messages from the Town with Yorktown specific updates on emergency services?

The following comments represent my personal view and are separate and distinct from my unbiased Patch blog postings of meeting summaries for Citizens for an Informed Yorktown, ciyinfo.org. 

As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

In February, 2012, I posed the question:  

In the event of an emergency, what would help you more?

  • Getting phone calls, emails and text messages from the Town with emergency updates, or
  • Knowing that the Town’s first responders (police, fire, ambulance) are meeting in a newly furnished and carpeted room.

 

Back in February, the Town Board had two options for using some of the remaining funds from a $20,000 Entergy grant that the previous Town Board had secured to set up an Emergency Notification System:

  • Purchase the Verizon 911 list in order to add 15,000 phone numbers to the system’s database, or,
  • Set up a permanent, single use meeting space for an Emergency Command Center (EOC) in the basement of the court.  An EOC is where key first responders meet during emergencies to implement an already prepared Emergency Preparedness Plan. The meetings can be held in any location that has sufficient space, a generator in the event there’s no electricity, and access to communications equipment.  During previous emergencies, the EOC was set up in the Police Department building.

 

Although the Board never openly discussed the issue, at the time, Supervisor Grace appeared to have made up his mind that furniture was more important than phone numbers. There was no Board discussion and the Verizon list was never purchased.

And in September, when the Board was asked if it was planning to use the remaining grant money to renew  the annual contract for the Emergency Notification System (it expired in August and would have cost about $4,500 to renew), the Supervisor said he was “reviewing the Town’s options.“  Again, there was no Board discussion.

But the choice between an Emergency Notification System or a permanent, single use EOC meeting room has surfaced again -- and again it appears that a decision is being, or has been, made without any open discussion or input from the Town Board or residents.

In the days before and immediately after Hurricane Sandy, the EOC was inexplicably relocated in the board room at Town Hall. But, in his initial storm post mortem, Supervisor Grace informed his fellow Board members that the board room was not suitable for an EOC and he was planning to set up a dedicated EOC meeting  space in the basement of the court.  At a subsequent meeting, Board members were informed that town staff “would be measuring the walls (in the court) tomorrow.” 

Before any money or staff time is spent setting up a permanent EOC meeting space, residents might want to know:

  • Who decided to set up a permanent EOC meeting space in the court?
  • Why can’t the police HQ be used for an EOC?
  • What are the plans to modify the court space and who prepared and reviewed them?
  • How much will setting up the EOC space cost and where will the money come from?

 

And what about the Emergency Notification System?

Has the Town Board voted to scrap the system?  If so, why, and how does the Town plan to communicate with its residents during future emergencies?  The telephone may be “old school,” but guess what:  it works when there’s no electricity.  And not everyone has a smartphone, iPad or laptop computer.

So I repeat the question I posed in February:  In the event of an emergency, what would help you more?

  • Getting phone calls, emails and text messages from the Town with emergency updates, or
  • Knowing that an EOC was meeting in a newly furnished and equipped dedicated space?

 

Share your answer with the members of the Town Board. This is a decision that affects us all.

For more information about the Emergency Notification System and the EOC, visit yorktownbettergovernment.org

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

eyesonyorktown December 03, 2012 at 06:18 PM
For once I am glad to read one of your posts. It has opened the door to a well deserved debate. First let’s answer your question. “In the event of an emergency, what would help you more? I would like to know that my first responders are equipped with whatever they need to provide services to this town. Knowing a little about unified command and the way it should run, this town has been in the dark ages when it comes to OEM or EOC for years. Not only is a command center (OEM or EOC) necessary, it is part of a requirement for some forms of grant money. For those who may not know what and OEM (Office of Emergency Management) or EOC (Emergency Operation Center) I believe the town uses the acronym of EOC (Emergency Operation Committee). Whatever it is call, it still holds the same responsibility of comprehensively planning for and responding to all manner of disasters, manmade or natural.
eyesonyorktown December 03, 2012 at 06:18 PM
“Knowing that the Town’s first responders (police, fire, ambulance) are meeting in a newly furnished and carpeted room.” You’re making it out to be some plush room with reclining chairs and Berber carpeting. When it may only, be a room with a table and few office chairs. It should also have multiple types of radio equipment and computers. Knowing my first responders can communicate with each other and formulate a plan to respond to our emergency needs, is far better than getting a phone call from a politician telling me there is an emergency. If I am not mistaken Yorktown had the opportunity to have both systems in place; but it was you that order the Chief of Police to return a $15,000.00 grant.
Evan Bray December 03, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Was the EOC in the police dept unacceptable or unusable? Why did we need a new space? As a layperson and not a first responder, it seems like a good idea to have it at police HQ. No?
Area Man December 03, 2012 at 10:17 PM
I would prefer that first responders have what they need. I, for one, do not need robo calls to tell me the power's out or whatever. I have ways of figuring that out myself ;-) . And, phone service, cell or internet might be out too, so that would be money poorly spent.
Evan Bray December 03, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Not sure what info the calls would have. I take care of myself and family and am able bodied, so I'm not too concerned about a call. Did the town not have an EoC at PD HQ? Was it too small? Why are we building a new one? The anonymous eyesonyorktown helpfully pointed out an EOC is a couple folding chairs and a table with a radio and telephone. What are we getting for our 15K? I don't have a position but loathe boondoggles. I guess I want to know what was wrong with the old EoC and why did we need a new one? How much does it cost, what are we getting? You know, the normal transparency things.
Susan Siegel December 03, 2012 at 10:38 PM
I definitely agree with eyesonyorktown. There needs to be a “well deserved debate.” Which is precisely the point I was trying to make: decisions about spending town funds are being made without any open public discussion. I totally support having an EOC. My concern is that an EOC can meet in any room that has tables, chairs, electricity (or an emergency generator), and communications equipment --all items that the police HQ currently has. To date, no one has explained why the police HQ cannot function when there’s an emergency and an EOC needs to be set up. Last year, during and after Irene, the EOC was set up in the Police HQ. What, if anything, does the police HQ building lack that the court building has, or can have? I heard that a bathroom facility would have to be added to the court space. The police HQ already has several. And, if the Town’s emergency preparedness planning needs updating, that’s an issue separate and apart from setting up an EOC. Emergency preparedness meetings during non-emergency times can be held anyplace. see more about the grants
Susan Siegel December 03, 2012 at 10:39 PM
As for grants, in 2009, during Don Peters’ term as supervisor, the Police Department applied for a grant to furnish an EOC without the Town Board’s knowledge OR authorization. In December, 2009, when the unauthorized grant was brought to the attention of the incoming Town Board, the Board advised the Police Department that it was not prepared to go ahead with the EOC plan and the department was advised to return the grant if the money could not be used for any other emergency programs or services. In 2010, the Town Board voted to submit a grant application for an Emergency Notification System. The grant was awarded. It was used to send emergency updates during last year’s Halloween storm. One of the key messages was that there was electricity west of the Taconic. In 2011, after Hurricane Irene, the need for satellite phones for first responders was identified. With the Town Board’s authorization, a grant application was submitted. Unfortunately, the Town did not receive the grant. (During and after Irene, the EOC was set up in the Police HQ.) During Sandy, the town used the Emergency Notification System only once. (It appears that the vendor never bothered to cancel the Town’s account even though the Town failed to review the contract in August) and that was to tell people to call 211. More Yorktown specific information would have been helpful, such when electricity was restored to the hamlets so that those still without could get food and gas.
Martin December 03, 2012 at 11:41 PM
Mr. Bray, being a former member of the E.O. Committee, it was agreed by the entire committee to locate the Emergency Operation Center in the basement of the court. This location was perfect to meet the needs of an EOC, with generator back up in place all the emergency services radio equipment already adjacent to the basement of the court. Additional cost savings aspects were in place at the court, like phone, cable, and bathrooms. This request was made under Mr. Peters administration at a work session. The Committee was charged to find the means to fund the project. The police Chief applied for grants 2009, one of the grants came in 2010.Well we know what happen to that. The proper EOC, need to be removed from the political arena so the room doesn’t get bogged down with media and politicians. Planning and responding should be left up to the trained personal, and the camera time would be left to the politicians. There has never been an EOC at police or Fire HQ, the attempts to make the roll call/class room an EOC failed. This is needed. Like you said a call to let you know what you already know is a waste.
Bob Rohr December 04, 2012 at 12:31 AM
I would rather that our Police, Fire, Ambulance and EMS workers have the equipment to respond to emergencies. The phone system will probably become useless in a scenario like Sandy. Today, most people are getting their phone service either through Cablevision or Verizon FIOS which is dependent upon you having power. FIOS has a battery backup so you have some phone until the battery dies. When I fired up my generator I had phone service via FIOS. Cell phones were not very good either, but you could get through if you kept trying. OK, we invest in a Robo calling system that would work prior to a storm, but may be calling nothing but dead phones as the power goes out. A better solution is making announcements on WHUD. We probably have quite a few Ham radio operators in Town who would be glad to pitch in if asked. If you make a 911 call for a real emergency, the first responders need to get to you, so a specialized vehicle may be a better investment. As mentioned by Martin, You want your EOC in a secure location away from distractions and not interfering with Police business. I know this from some experience in another Community. Susan, I have to ask this question after reading this and other posts. Is there anything that Mr. Grace and the Town Council can do properly?
Area Man December 04, 2012 at 01:21 AM
As they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Ms. Siegel has surely done that, making it far more difficult for the departments of this Town to conduct their business. Sorry, off topic.
Evan Bray December 04, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Ok. I understand the need for an EOC. Isn't the PD a big part of the first responders? If there is room at the PD, would seem a natural fit to locate EOC there, no? If there's physically no room, I could understand moving it to another building. Did it not work well when try used it during Irene? While I don't care for a phone call, I do enjoy the text alerts I get from the MTA for specific lines. That said, instead buying a system, a well maintained twitter handle can be just as effective and is free to boot. Does sound like it's an issue that should get to debate in a public forum. Ideally we do that before the first big blizzard of the year.
Martin December 04, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Mr. Bray The use of the room in police HQ during Irene proved to be inadequate in both size and location. What the committee is looking for is no different than any other EOC, but scaled down. If you had the clearance to visit the W.C. and the T.M.C. center you would understand why separation/ isolation are needed. I don’t think there is a need for a debate, but more of trust in those who are in charge of the different agency; The Police Chief the Fire Chiefs from YHFD and LMFD and the EMS Captains along with CD leaders and Red Cross representatives. They are the ones looking for the center so that representatives can better coordinated and support them in an emergency. The politician need to look past their realm of control and cater to the media so that information can be conveyed to the public. You never see an EOC on the TV when mayors, governors or county executive hold a press conference. They are being feed the information from the director of the EOC or a public information officer. When Ms Siegel talks about the notification system and Emergency Operation Center she is talking about apple and oranges, however the politician want to deliver the information coming out of an EOC is their prerogative. The EOC is a tool for the first responders to use when responding to your emergency.
Susan Siegel December 04, 2012 at 08:59 PM
As I wrote earlier, I’m glad my posting has started the long needed debate. Several people have asked good questions. Other have raised valid points. What’s needed is more open discussion before final decisions are made and funds are committed. I certainly agree with Martin (and Supervisor Grace) that the board room at town hall is not an appropriate location for an EOC. A location for a future EOC and the Emergency Notification System that provides residents with emergency updates via landline phones,cell phones, emails and text message are two entirely separate issues. The only thing they have in common is whether the Town Board decides to do a switcheroo and use the remaining grant money we received specifically for the Emergency Notification System for an EOC facility.. If I was the one giving the grant money, I don’t think I’d be too happy to see money I gave for one purpose used for something else – and without my knowledge. Here’s hoping this dialogue continues.

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