Dress Rehearsal for Disaster
Posted November 10, 2021; updated November 11th:
Wednesday, Nov. 9th, Greater Ithaca had what can best be described as an “Active Shooter Situation.” And sadly, our community’s public leaders were caught flat-footed.
Shots were fired on Hancock Street in early-afternoon. Suspects escaped to Cayuga Heights. Police searched; arrested two; but the third got away. Ithaca High and Boynton schools were locked down. Buses stopped. Some—but not all of us—were told to “shelter in place.” Parents were either ill-informed, or totally clueless as to what was happening. Many knew nothing.
I was among the latter. I live in Enfield. As coincidence had it, I’d visited Tompkins County’s governmental website frequently that afternoon. Nothing was posted. I’m told the Sheriff’s website had nothing either. City of Ithaca and IPD; Ditto. I knew nothing of what had transpired until about 7:30, when after a County Budget Hearing, I phoned my sister, the County’s retired Public Information Officer, and she told me about it. I guess some legislators posted to Facebook. But not everybody—certainly not I—obsesses about Facebook.
Thank God, nobody was hurt. Next time we may not be so lucky. Next time maybe it’ll be “the real thing.” And will we still be so unprepared? Frankly, heads need to roll.
We are a community of one. Notifications should have spread to a larger area. Those—like me—driving from one place to another in this community deserved to know. As the relative of a car-jacking victim from long ago, I know the importance.
Our County Legislature needs to address this problem head-on. The Legislature meets Tuesday, the 16th. I suggest we start then. Instead of spending our lives Reimagining Public Safety through police reform, let’s give our Emergency Messaging System some Reimagination too.
And one more thing, where was our SWAT Truck? Did we use it?
The Public Blowback:
Tompkins County Legislator Anne Koreman before the Enfield Town Board, as she commenced her report to the Board, Wednesday evening, November 10th:
“…So the incident was regarding the—there was a shooting incident downtown and there was one of the people—or the car—one of the cars involved went up into Cayuga Heights. And so there was criticism from one of the Board members here that Tompkins County dropped the ball, that heads should roll at the next legislative meeting. Please, call and ask. You don’t know all the [unintelligible] details. Call me. Call the Sheriff and find out what was going on. There was a lot that was being done during it and afterwards…..
[Legislator Koreman encourages Board members to sign up for Swift911 notifications; then continued]
“Our Emergency Services Department did reach out to the neighbors involved in the area where we asked people to lock down. Schools were notified in the area; parents. So we did quite a lot while that was going on. And the same thing with Cornell; had a bomb scare. The same thing. There was a lot of stuff that the County was doing to help with that…. ” [Legislator Koreman then proceeded with her report of legislative business.]
At the report’s conclusion, I responded to legislator Koreman:
“I would like to ask a question of legislator Koreman, because I was the person that she criticized at the beginning of her report. And I’d like to give her some information as to why I wrote the words I did this afternoon.
“Those words did not just—well, they came from me. But before they were posted, they were vetted by another individual who’s a very close associate of mine, was very experienced in what the County has done in the past, and what the County should do. And I will tell you that if I am angry about what transpired yesterday in terms of public notification, the person that I was in contact with was much more incensed about it, because this isn’t the way it used to be done.
“And perish the thought that there was a real incident where lives were really at risk, large numbers of lives. We were flat-footed. We were unprepared. And we should get our act together.
“That’s the opinion of not only myself, but my associate. And I wanted to let legislator Koreman know. And yes, this associate was in contact with other legislators, perhaps not legislator Koreman, but others, and gave a full assessment to me of what had occurred, and what should have occurred, and what didn’t occur. And I’ll leave it there.”
And, no, legislator Koreman, it’ ain’t just me. Comment from Pete Tyler, retired Ithaca Chief of Police, posted to Facebook, November 10th:
“Two gunfire incidents on top of the search for the gunman, another gun located tonight by a resident, thankfully not a child. Your exact point of why there hasn’t been a press conference can only be answered by one person and Acting Chief Joly answers to him.
“Bottom line the city is in turmoil and it’s getting worse. Don’t you wonder why there isn’t more information being put out? Perhaps there is a reason the PBA feels it needs a voice because the real ‘truth’ isn’t being told. The information flow released yesterday through press releases did put out a great deal of information, however sometimes because of circumstances you don’t get to know every detail and certain things are held back to protect the investigation.
“It’s very frustrating when the one person in charge, elected to lead the city who should and does know all of the information is silent. What happens when there is an inevitable engagement between law enforcement and one of these gun carrying suspects? Could have easily happened yesterday. When is enough, enough? What if the bus had been loaded with precious cargo and a child had been struck by reckless gunfire? Can’t keep blaming the police, the PBA for what’s happening, someone has to demand answers and offer real solutions. Ithaca is better than this.”
Community, please be the judge. Who’s right? Who’s the more responsible? Whose words will save more lives?