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KGO's Dan Noyes and Newsom administration duke it out
on the Sentinel

By Luke Thomas

April 19, 2006

Sentinel readers are invited to referee an ongoing battle for public opinion between I-Team reporter Dan Noyes of KGO Channel 7 and the Newsom Administration.

We invite our readers to make the call. Who will need the smelling salts here?

Round 1

On November 11, 2005, Dan Noyes filed a report claiming OES Director Annemarie Conroy failed to respond to written questions from Noyes about San Francisco's disaster preparedness emergency siren system.

Round 2

Editors Note: The Newsom Administration responds calling Noyes' reporting into question:

From the Newsom Administration:

KGO's last series of reports on the city's emergency preparedness omitted almost all of the responses prepared for the station.

Why did Dan Noyes ignore the city's comments after DTIS answered every one of his questions?

In his last series, KGO reported...

Through her spokesperson, Conroy requested our questions in writing and we sent them yesterday morning. We wanted to know, "Is the system working properly?" "Why has the city failed to order the prerecorded messages?" "When did you plan on telling the Board of Supervisors" about the cost overruns? No answers from Conroy, as of tonight. [KGO, 11/11/05]

Actually, Mr. Noyes received answers from Conroy and DTIS that afternoon, sadly he chose to ignore them....

Dan Noyes received an email on Conroy's behalf on 11/11/05 at 9:16am saying that DTIS was the lead agency on this issue... he ignored it in his report....

Dan Noyes received an email at 1:44pm on 11/11/05 answering all of his questions, disproving his criticisms...he ignored those answers in his report also...

Sadly, Mr. Noyes appears to not share everything he knows. The email trail below seems to show that he is not being honest with the viewers of KGO-TV....

If you read this, you can't help but wonder about the integrity of the reporting....

So here are the emails, information that never made it on to KGO-TV....

KGO-TV Email Correspondence

From: "Noyes, Dan" <Dan.Noyes@abc.com>
To: <Laura.Adleman@SFGOV.ORG>
11/10/2005 10:04

cc: ANNEMARIE.CONROY@SFGOV.ORG, <RICH.SHORTALL@SFGOV.ORG>, <Ron.vinson@SFGOV.ORG>, <Shawn.alison@SFGOV.ORG>, Michael.Majliulo@SFGOV.ORG>, "Keeshan,Kevin"<Kevin.Keeshan@abc.com>, "Staab,Valari D" <Valari.D.Staab@abc.com>, "Smith, Glen A"<Glen.A.Smith@abc.com>, "Rimbey,Beth" <Beth.Rimbey@abc.com>

Subject: Siren


This is a list of some of the questions we have about San Francisco's Outdoor Public Warning System or "siren". We are supplying these questions at your request, and only because Annemarie Conroy refuses our request for an interview on this topic. This is not a public records request. The answers to these questions should be readily available. Due to production deadlines, we need your answers by 5pm today, Thursday November 10th.

1) Have you tested the siren's live voice capability?

1a) If so, how many times and on what dates?

1b) How were the results?

1c) Did the system work as designed?

1d) If you have not tested the live voice capability, why not?

2) The owner of ATI confirms to us that the computer system kept freezing up when you tried to use the voice capabilities, and that he has had to install a new board in the activation unit and change the software to get it to work. Is this accurate?

2a) What's the status now?

2b) Is the system working properly?

3) In an on-camera interview 3 weeks ago, the owner of ATI told us the $2.1 million federal grant paid for the installation of approximately 60 sirens. He says because of dead spots or "acoustic shadows", 30 additional sirens will have to be installed for nearly $1 million. He calls this "phase two" of the project. The Board of Supervisors was unaware of this additional cost. When did you plan on telling them of the need for this additional expense?

3a) Why was this added expense not part of the original contract with ATI? KGO-TV Email Correspondence

3b) Why wasn't the possibility of these dead spots taken into account in the original plan?

4) Have you tested the system's ability to simultaneously send different prerecorded messages to different neighborhoods?

4a) If not, why not?

4b) If so, how many times and on what dates?

4c) What were the results?

4d) Did the system perform the way it was supposed to?

5) During the on-camera interview, the owner of ATI told us the city has not ordered any prerecorded messages; the only one the city has is the "This is a test" message. Why has the city failed to order the prerecorded messages?

5a) If you ordered them since our interview with the owner, why did you wait nearly a year after the implementation of the system to order the prerecorded messages?

6) Long before our interview with the owner of ATI in which he revealed the city has not ordered prerecorded messages, Gavin Newsom and Annemarie Conroy were telling news conferences that we have the capability to send messages to different neighborhoods in different languages. Apparently, at the time of those comments, the city did not have the capability â€" you had not ordered any prerecorded messages, including ones in different languages. Several independent emergency experts say that is a danger for the city to say you have this capability when in fact you don't. They say it would be a serious problem if disaster struck, and people were relying on a system that wasn't in place. What's your answer to that criticism?

7) The mayor said on KGO Radio recently that he can pick up his cell phone and talk over the city's sirens. Has that capability been tested?

7a) If so, what were the results?

7b) If the capability has not been tested, why not?

7c) The independent experts say it is also a danger to be promoting a capability of the siren that does not exist or has not been tested. What is your answer to that criticism?

8) OES has declined our request for a demonstration of the siren system's capabilities. The independent experts say you should want to show off the system in the interest of public awareness; they say your reluctance to do so raises questions about potential problems with the system. What's your answer to that criticism?

I look forward to see your responses as soon as possible. You may e-mail them to me at this address, or fax them to the number below.

Dan Noyes
ABC 7 I-Team

(note: Dan Noyes reports that he received no answers by his broadcast, the next two emails show he did. 8 hours before the broadcast! See emails below)

From: "Mayor's Press Director" <PRagone@nextel.blackberry.net>
Date: Fri, 11 Nov 2005 17:16:42 To:
"Noyes, Dan" <Dan.Noyes@abc.com>

Subject: Re: interview

Dan. In the interest of being as helpful as possible. I spoke with ms conroy today and she asked me to inform you that she had forwarded the questions to DTIS for review as they are the agency best suited to answer your questions.

Sorry if that wasn't conveyed in writing to you yesterday. In the future we will be mindful that things should be done in writing for you so you won't be confused. As you know laura was on vacation, so I'm pleased to help out.

Have a great veterans day.

Date: Fri, 11 Nov 2005 13:44:28 -0800 (PST)

"Darlene Chiu" <darchiu@yahoo.com>

Subject: Your request for information regarding Siren System
To: dan.noyes@abc.com
CC:KGO-TV Email Correspondence ron.vinson@sfgov.org, laura.adleman@sfgov.org, "Peter Ragone" <ragonepr@yahoo.com>, denise.brady@sfgov.org, "Darlene Chiu"<darlene.chiu@sfgov.org>, darchiu@yahoo.com

Dear Dan,

Both Ron Vinson and Laura Adleman were not in the office yesterday nor today - therefore I was asked to forward and provide this response to your inquiry of yesterday. The response is from DTIS.

Item 1.

The system has been activated every Tuesday, at Noon, since March 2005. The voice capability has been tested each time. Live voice capability has been tested several times. It has been proven to work. However, the coverage area that was pledged to us by the contractor has been less than promised (1c).

Moreover, this phase of the new system was not designed to provide full coverage for voice over the entire city. Because of city topograpy, tall buildings and other barriers, and because of the greater difficulty in achieving crisp voice transmission, the City plans to address more complete voice transmission in later phases.

Item 2.

Thankfully, the city recognized that redundancy had to be built in to the system. At the time that the vendor's computer system did not function properly, remote computer system was operational and the Tuesday activations were performed successfully.

Item 3.

This project has not been concluded. Fortunately, the city recognized that there should be a trial period for the system, in the event that the contractor did not deliver what it said it would. Therefore, this system has not been accepted by the City. Until the system is accepted, it is premature to determine what if any future enhancements will be sought. However, if we do accept it, we believe that enhancements will be required, something that the city has said publicly from the system's inception.

Over the past several weeks, we have been testing the system and verifying what enhancements are needed so that we could share those requirements with the city's administrative and legislative branches of government.

DTIS supports the public safety communications systems for the City. We continually identify opportunities to enhance, harden and make secure the City's communications systems. At any given time, numerous communications projects are being developed and considered by DTIS and our client departments.

We are proud of the fact that San Francisco is the among the first in the nation to try to build such an essential system. We always knew that we would need to closely monitor the performance of the system since it has never been tried before.

Item 3a.

please see above

Item 3b.

The dead spots were taken into account. Due to manufacturing defects and under performance by the contractor, ATI, the "dead spots" are more than we originally thought.

Item 4.

The short answer is no. The City does not test different prerecorded messages, because we have determined that it is in the best interests of the system to use live messaging capability -- outside of the one prerecorded test message (4a). In addition you should know that we have tested the system's sites grouped by neighborhood which demonstrates our ability to tailor messages by location.

The system has been tested every Tuesday since March 2005 (4b).
The system has been activated remotely via wireless device as well, from different neighborhoods. This feature worked (4c and 4d).

Item 5.

You allege that the city "failed" to order pre-recorded messages. In fact, the city never intended to order prerecorded messages. The City chose to require a system that would support live voice messages due to our analysis that there is such an incredible range of messages (and several languages)that might be required. It is best that we don't have pre-recorded messages and instead rely on live voice message capabilities. Perhaps ATI wants to
sell these messages for profit.

In addition, the city's ECD has multi lingual staff on call 24 hours a day.

Therefore, we have the capability to broadcast messages in Mandarin, Cantonese and Spanish at ALL TIMES.

5a. N/A

Item 6.

According to your quote, neither the Mayor nor Ms. Conroy told the news conference that the simultaneous multi-lingual messages would be prerecorded.

You write that "apparently...the city did not have the capability..." to send messages to different neighborhoods in different languages. That is false. The criticism is without basis. We have the ability to "send messages to different neighborhoods in different languages."

Item 7.

Yes, the remote operation via wireless device has been tested and
it work as planned.

Item 8.

The system has been demonstrated in public on at least two occasions. We hope that the "independent experts" you cite are aware of that. If they are not, we would be pleased to discuss it with them, don't hesitate to forward their contact information to us. In addition, the system is tested every Tuesday at 12:00pm.

Round 3

Editor's Note: In round 3, Noyes responds with a flurry:

The first point I want to make is the note from the Mayor’s Press Office begins, “KGO’s last series of reports on the city’s emergency preparedness …” and goes on to discuss our Siren report from last year. I’d like to point out that our latest report on the city’s emergency preparedness aired just last night. On the anniversary of the great quake, we revealed that the city does not have a completed earthquake emergency plan. OES Director Annemarie Conroy and Mayor Newsom told us it would be done by the end of last year, but it’s not. You can see the story at http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=i_team&id=4091165.

You can also read the complete e-mail chains showing how difficult it’s been to get interviews with Mayor Newsom and Director Conroy, and how difficult it’s been to get documents that should be available under the California Public Records Act. We first asked for the emergency plans ten months ago, and have not received many important documents. We’ve also streamed our complete interview with the Mayor on our site, and our News Director has posted a blog that answers many of the questions now being raised by the Mayor’s Office.

Now, to the gist of the specific story in question … Last November, I reported serious problems with the city’s emergency siren system, even though the Mayor had been touting its capabilities. I also revealed that the manufacturer of the siren system needed $1 million more to fix the system. All this came as news to the Board of Supervisors. Several members were unhappy that the Mayor’s Office had not been more forthcoming about the problems and the cost overruns.

To the specific points of the Mayor’s Office claims – they’ve not provided important context for this discussion. Here’s the applicable portion of our script, as aired:

We've been trying for a month now to speak with Office of Emergency Services Director Annemarie Conroy. We went so far as to meet her on the way to work one morning last week.

Annemarie Conroy: "Hi."

Dan Noyes: "Good morning, Annemarie. I'd like to talk to you."

Annemarie Conroy: "I'm not going to do that right now."

We waited two hours and Conroy never came back out of her house. She was late to work on this day. Through her spokesperson, Conroy requested our questions in writing and we sent them yesterday morning. We wanted to know, "Is the system working properly?" "Why has the city failed to order the prerecorded messages?" "When did you plan on telling the Board of Supervisors" about the cost overruns? No answers from Conroy, as of tonight.

Aaron Peskin, President, Board of Supervisors: "The next step is the Board of Supervisors is going to start asking questions, we have the unlimited power of inquiry. If I need to subpoena people I will. I want to know why the people of San Francisco and the Board of Supervisors have not been told really what's going on here."

We requested an interview with Gavin Newsom. No word back as of air time. We'll try to catch up to him on Monday. His office sent some information about the sirens this afternoon. It admits they are having coverage issues. It says that the live-voice capability is working, and they are working to resolve all the problems. Also today, the city attorney sent a letter to ATI threatening a lawsuit if the company doesn't fix the system by the end of December. But clearly, there's enough blame to go around at City Hall and OES.

You can see the entire script at http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=i_team&id=3627030.

What we reported was factual and fair. Annemarie Conroy refused to do an interview. We tried for weeks to get answers from her office. As a last resort, we sent questions the morning of November 10th, the day before air, asking them to provide the answers by 5pm because of production deadlines. The Mayor’s Office missed that deadline, and finally sent us answers the afternoon of the following day. We accurately summarized what happened. We did not get any answers from Ms. Conroy. We did not hear back from Mayor Newsom about an interview, but his office provided some answers late on the day of air. We summarized those answers at the end of our story.

If you look closely at the questions I asked and the responses provided by Darlene Chiu of the Mayor’s Office, you’ll see why we insist on interviews that allow follow-up questions. Chiu does not answer many of the questions asked.

I’m quite careful about tracking e-mail, and I don’t recall seeing the one from the Mayor’s Press Director 43 minutes before the story aired. In the big picture, this entire discussion could have been avoided if the staffs of the Mayor’s Office and OES provided information and documents to us in a timely manner … if OES Director Annemarie Conroy and Mayor Newsom would sit down with us for interviews on these matters of great public importance. The Mayor insists we catch up to him on the run at some public event; it hardly provides the opportunity for a thoughtful give and take. Ms. Conroy refuses to speak with us at all – and it’s not just me. Just yesterday, she gave the same treatment to our reporter Mark Matthews.

This is all about serving the public. We ask the questions on behalf of our viewers. It’s up to public officials to provide those important answers … to us and to their constituents.

Editor's Note: There's the bell. You make the call. Send your responses to the editor at editor@fogcityjournal.com




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