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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.

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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