Sag Harbor Village Board Meeting Shut Down After “Zoombombing”

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The Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees had to shut down a public meeting launched via Zoom on Friday afternoon after someone hacked into the work session, using racial slurs and profanity in the comments section while village board members attempted to update residents on the coronavirus outbreak locally.

Known as “Zoombombing,” or “Zoom raiding,” this kind of hacking has plagued the videoconferencing platform as of late, as businesses, municipalities and school districts have increasingly relied on Zoom with much of the world practicing social distancing with the COVID—19 virus infecting over a million people worldwide, including 258,611 confirmed cases in the United States, 102,800 in New York State. The latest figures from Suffolk County show 10,000 confirmed cases, including 200 on the South Fork.

On March 30, the FBI issued a warning about teleconferencing and online classroom hijackings after receiving multiple reports of conferences being interrupted by pornography, hate speech and threatening language.

“Please do share our apology with the public,” said Sag Harbor Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy in a follow-up conference call with the village board after trustees hastily closed the session Friday afternoon.

Prior to the “Zoombombing,” members of the village board updated more than a dozen members of the public tuned into the session about what is happening in Sag Harbor Village, with many businesses shuttered, schools closed and all non-essential construction halted amid the virus outbreak.

Trustee Jim Larocca opened the meeting with a personal warning about those who have been tested for the virus, after his son-in-law tested positive but was not informed via text of his results as he was told to expect.

According to Mr. Larocca, his son-in-law returned from London and became sick. He was approved to be tested at Stony Brook University Hospital and self-quarantined at home away from his wife and children. Mr. Larocca said his son-in-law was told he would find out results via text in the next three days. Still ill, he continued to self-quarantine after three days despite being told if he received no information he was in the clear. It was only after calling the hospital, he was told results would be available seven-to-eight days after testing. Checking his results through the county’s website, he discovered he had in fact tested positive.

“Under the guidance he was given, and the only information he received over seven days was to assume he was negative when that was not the case,” said Mr. Larocca, advising those tested to check in on the county site with their registration number in order to find out their own results.

Confirmed cases in Suffolk County have skyrocketed in the last 36 hours, although confirmed cases on the South Fork have remained relatively low. “I do believe an awful lot of the reason East Hampton and Southampton are low in numbers is because people are not bothering to go through with it,” said Ms. Mulcahy of the testing. “I don’t think we are looking at real numbers.”

ProHealth, a New York based medical provider, opened the first drive-through testing site on the East End in Riverhead earlier this week, she noted, although the testing is not free and is billed through insurance. In daily conversations with officials with Suffolk County, Ms. Mulcahy said she has been led to believe it is not likely a drive through testing station will be set up on the South Fork, calling it “disappointing.”

That said, Ms. Mulcahy said she was grateful to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and his office for being “a huge resource for us.”

“These daily calls let us know we are not alone,” she said, adding the East End mayors and supervisors are also having a weekly teleconference on Tuesdays.

Trustee Thomas Gardella said the fire department has pulled back its fire police — mostly older members of the all-volunteer department — from answering any calls as a precaution. Those volunteers who do respond to calls, must wear masks or ventilators — 100 N95 masks were donated to the department, said Mr. Gardella, a member and former chief. “Luckily, we have not had any general fire alarms,” he said.

The Sag Harbor Ambulance Corps is also limiting the number of personnel who respond to calls, said Mr. Gardella, and have put other protective measures in place while responding to the sick and injured. He said the Corps has a small stockpile of personal protective equipment, or PPE, should cases begin to spike, but unfortunately not enough to share with other organizations except for the hospital if it becomes a dire need.

Residents are donating PPE, he added, as well as funding, to the Corps and the fire department during the crisis.

“The response has been overwhelming … the members appreciate it and thank you,” said Mr. Gardella.

Trustee Aidan Corish encouraged residents to sign up for email alerts and updates at sagharborny.gov, and implored residents not to flush alleged “flushable” wipes into the village’s wastewater treatment system. Two blockages in the system — one on Washington Street that cost the village $1,800 to clean up — have been reported in the last two days, he said.

“Regardless of what manufacturers claim, there are no flushable wipes,” he said.

Trustee Robert Plumb said he was working with Building Inspector Thomas Preiato to enforce the closure of non-essential businesses, including non-essential construction projects. He encouraged people to contact the village if they feel the mandate is not being followed, noting that Mr. Preiato needs to witness any violation if someone is to be cited.

“We know this is hard,” said Ms. Mulcahy, referring to a recent village request that all self-service food operation cease. “This is changing your business, your business models but this is something that is more important than one business.”

Ms. Mulcahy reminded listeners that testing is very limited and given New York is the current epicenter of the outbreak, chaotic, across the state. She said it was her hope testing will continue to expand but until it is readily available, urged residents to practice “active social distancing.”

“You are not being rude if you wear a mask. You are not being rude if you stay home,” she said. “You are being responsible.”

Resident Chris Tice thanked the board for hosting sessions, which they plan to continue twice a week through the duration of this crisis, said Ms. Mulcahy. She expressed frustration at news that some people with symptoms are still being turned away for testing if they have not been in contact with someone who has tested positive.

“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Ms. Tice. “You can’t get tested because you don’t know someone, but you don’t know anyone because they can’t get tested,” she said.

Ms. Mulcahy said the county is performing about 1,000 tests daily, but that that many people are also being checked into hospitals each day. Mr. Larocca noted with a doctor’s recommendation, residents can qualify to be tested.

It was at that moment, the village meeting was infiltrated, racial slurs filling the chat screen. While Connie McGrath, the secretary to Mayor Mulcahy, restarted the session with the chat screen disabled, the hacker continued to verbally interrupt the session, even while a Zoom employee, Kevin, tried to help before the session was closed.

In a conference call convened after the Zoom meeting was closed, village board members passed a resolution to hire CityScape Consultants, Inc. to negotiate wireless facility leases currently proposed by Verizon Wireless. CityScape, which village attorney Denise Schoen said has worked with the Town of Southold in reviewing similar licenses, will be paid a maximum hourly rate of $350 for senior attorney services with a total retainer that maxes out at $5,000.

“Ultimately, we hope to provide the best cell service we can have with a fair revenue stream for the village for the next 25 years,” said Mr. Corish.

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