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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Frank Farance Suspended By Roosevelt Island CERT Team For Not Being Team Player, Farance Says Suspension Retaliation For Reporting Operational Problems And Politically Motivated - What Will NYC OEM Do?

On September 26, I asked Roosevelt Island Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Chief Howard Polivy:

I understand that Frank Farance was recently suspended from the Roosevelt Island CERT Team.

According to Frank, he was suspended because CERT Team members claim he included Roosevelt Islander in an email thread that had certain critical remarks about the manner in which Howard Polivy is leading the Roosevelt Island CERT Team. Also, CERT team members affiliated with the Wire newspaper were on the email thread but that was not given as a reason for Frank's suspension.

Is Frank's correct regarding the reason he was suspended?

If not, what was the reason for his suspension?...
Mr. Polivy replied later that day:
The following was sent to OEM and the CERT team:
"CERT Frank Farance has been suspended from RI CERT, Mn8.
The team will discuss this ongoing suspension at its next meeting, Monday, October 27."

This is an internal team matter for which I have no other comments at this time.
Mr. Farance sent the following message yesterday to the NYC's Office Of Emergency Management (OEM) in response to his suspension by the Roosevelt Island CERT.
I disagree strongly, Mr. Polivy's actions are inappropriate, and (essentially) this punishes and retaliates against a CERT member who has reported significant operational problems with CERT. I am requesting a full investigation of this team, including its leadership, and the supervisory and oversight practices of the CERT management chain. I am also requesting the NYC DOI Inspectors General to investigate. It should not be the case that CERT member participation is subject to political payback and retaliation....

1. The Roosevelt Island CERT (RI-CERT), originally formed in 2006, has suffered from dysfunction for several years. I can't think of any meeting minutes we've had in a half dozen years. Below, please find a list of the very few meetings in 2011-2013. There were long periods, including over a year, where we received no communication from our team chief Mr. Polivy (or his assistant chief). The meetings were extremely sparse, several members questioned whether or not we (as a CERT team) still exist, and we suffered significant attrition of team membership.

2. The call tree has not been updated in 6 years (see E-mail below). I have requested updated contact information from Mr. Polivy several times. His wife, Ellen Polivy (also a CERT member), has asked for this information to be updated and Mr. Polivy asked me to do it (see E-mails below). Normally, I maintain the E-mail reflector (E-mail list) for the team so we can quickly communicate. However, Mr. Polivy is not providing information, and his blind-copy E-mails prohibit/inhibit communications among the team. With no phone numbers, no call tree, an out-of-date E-mail reflector, and blind-copies ... there is no way for CERT members to communicate in an emergency, which is a serious operational problem for our CERT.

3. In our meeting last week, some CERT members registered complaints that were repeats of the same arguments they made when Mr. Polivy's wife (and others, who are also CERT members) unsuccessfully tried to get me expelled from the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) because I was complaining about improper financials, procedures, and such. It seems clear that their complaints in the CERT meeting were, essentially, a repeat of their complaints in RIRA. Also, there are a variety of conflicts of interest that, I believe, operate here, which I will detail further in discussions with NYC DOI and the OEM Commissioner.

4. The purported suspension process, I believe, has no validity. There was no advanced notice that I might be suspended, the meeting seemed driven by local politics. If there has been some infraction, then it is up to the City (e.g., OEM) to determine my official status, not a set of volunteers without procedures and procedural guidance, and conflict-of-interest and whistleblower safeguards.

5. According to Mr. Polivy, he has concerns with the RI Blog receiving a copy of my message. Mr. Polivy has only provided excerpts and not the full context of the E-mail thread, which concerned CERT equipment, unbeknownst to myself and the owner of the building, being kept in a storage room -- these storage rooms were already under scrutiny as a potential fire/theft hazard when the owner, in consultation with NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), who changed the access procedures and started mandating their clean-out/reorganization.

6. Actually, it was Sherie Helstien (also a member of CERT and a staffer at the Main Street WIRE, our local newspaper) who sent the original message to the RI Blog that I responded to, I did not originate that E-mail thread that included the RI Blog. Since last week's CERT meeting, my purported suspension has appeared on the front page of the local newspaper. If Mr. Polivy feels that the RI Blog hearing about CERT issues was improper, then why is it acceptable to publish the purported suspension? Here is the report in the WIRE:
"Another Common Council delegate, Frank Farance of Island House, has been temporarily suspended from meetings of the Island's CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) by its chief Howard Polivy, as a non-team player, pending consultation with the City's Office of Emergency Management."
I was in the Westchester Disaster Simulation yesterday: I was elected to lead one of their teams, and our evaluators noted a strong, cohesive team with good/decisive leadership. I've had similar evaluations in other CERT activities over the years, including actual emergencies. Simply, this charge of "non-team" player is a bunch of baloney and disguises the root cause: local politics.

7. Meanwhile, Gwen Ryals and I did participate in the evacuation shelter staffing, several days each, of Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy (see attached photos).

I have volunteered for much CERT work over the years, and have helped the Roosevelt Island team in many ways, including supporting the recent community outreach and printing large banners for the team. Last fall, I participated in the disaster simulation to help graduate more Roosevelt Island CERT members. The Mayor's office has been interested in Gwen Ryal's and my feedback (After-Action Review) on CERT involvement in emergencies, which have helped CERT teams do better.

8. With Gwen Ryal's and my prior helpful feedback in several actual emergency responses, should CERT members be wary of saying anything (even in an off-hand discussion elsewhere) that is critical of CERT team performance? And should we allow politics to play a role in excluding/suspending members from a team? I thought we were based upon City-wide performance standards, not local politics. And what would the NY Times or Daily News say in their reporting: "Emergency Responder Suspended For Revealing Actual CERT Performance Problems"?

Simply, you must correct this (in multiple ways). Gwen Ryals and I will be requesting a meeting with the OEM Commissioner to discuss this further.
(The emails referenced by Mr. Farance are not included in this post).

What is Roosevelt Island CERT Team?

According to the NYC OEM:
OEM's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members undergo an intensive 10-week training program that raises awareness about emergencies and disasters and provides basic response skills needed for fire safety, light search and rescue, disaster medical operations, and traffic control. After graduating from the 10-week program, CERT members support their communities by assisting with emergency education and response. Emergency services personnel are the best equipped to respond to disasters. NYC CERT volunteers are trained to support the efforts of New York City's first responders.

During non-emergency situations, NYC CERTs educate their communities about emergency preparedness by working with the Ready New York program and building community disaster networks.
Here's some of the emergency training undertaken by the Roosevelt Island CERT Team.

UPDATE 10:15 PM - A Roosevelt Island resident adds:
It's a volunteer position, They can't stop him! The CERT beg for volunteers and when you disagree with them they complain. I was part of the first CERT and they all refused to go to other parts of the city to volunteer when needed. They claimed they only wanted to participate here on the island. I quit couldn't take the excuses. Stop the stupidness.


CheshireKitty said...

LOL. However, it is not the case that CERT has fallen apart - quite the opposite.

Of course, Frank has every right to complain about his expulsion and many demand a hearing.

However, he can't say something is not so - that CERT is dysfunctional, or ineffectual, or whatever - when it isn't. If he feels RI CERT is no good - which is what in effect he said in a couple of statements that triggered his suspension - then he should look for another CERT to join, which he can do as a CERT member.

If he had complaints about CERT for years, then why didn't say something about it earlier? If he wants to level constructive criticism about CERT, then he could have discussed his concerns at a CERT meeting. However, he doesn't attend all CERT meetings - I question his commitment to CERT even if he is a CERT member.

CERT was deployed a couple of times successfully - the photograph Frank has posted is of a successful deployment of the RI CERT team, despite Frank's contention that the CERT is dysfunctional. The photograph proves CERT is not dysfunctional since it deployed and assisted successfully, which Frank must admit is true.

I don't see how Frank can prove his points about RI CERT - and I'm just saying that as an outside observer, not being a CERT member. The CERT members I've met, based on a CERT meeting I attended as an observer, struck me as serious and dedicated, and the team seems focused on its mission to assist in case of emergencies. With all due respect, I think Frank misspoke in his comments because I do not think CERT is dysfunctional or ineffective. If he, however, is convinced of the RI CERT's problems - as he sees them - then he can always find another CERT to join (as there are CERTs throughout the City).