Lightning interrupts 911 usage



October 3, 2012 - 12:00 AM

For about 10 seconds the evening of Aug. 25, Allen County 911 dispatch center was off line.

“Lightning hit at 7:28 and the whole building went black, except for (battery powered) emergency exit lights,” said Angie Murphy, dispatch director, in an assessment she gave county commissioners Tuesday morning.

A large and often violent storm moved through Allen County that evening.

Murphy said she looked out a window and found “it was just us” — the dispatch center — that was darkened by a lightning bolt that apparently struck the center’s 150-foot tall tower. 

“We have surge protectors on all the equipment,” though several pieces were damaged, she said.

An emergency generator kicked on when the building darkened, and it “started to pick up pieces of equipment within a few seconds,” she said, but only one full console in the dispatch room was operational over the next several hours.

A call to AT&T, which provides telephone service, led to incoming 911 calls being switched to the center’s hand-held business phones. Calls normally are answered through headsets dispatchers wear.

Most radio equipment and computer-aided dispatching, which logs calls and keeps track of where responders are, were silenced.

Eventually computers came back online.

“I had to shut some down and reboot them several times before they stayed online,” Murphy said.

Things returned pretty much to normal when city workers restored external power, Murphy said. “By late evening everything except the Internet was functioning.”

Two dispatchers were on duty when the lighting struck and Murphy was at the center because of the storm. Dispatch center protocol has her on-site whenever severe weather or some other emergency occurs. 

The county insurance policy’s deductible is $1,000, which quickly was eaten up.

“Hardware costs may not end up being too great, but we’re facing quite a bit of labor costs,” Murphy said. “Advantage Computer technicians have been here quite a few times the past week and probably will be for another week or so.”