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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Elk County 911 working to repair lightning damage

RIDGWAY - Elk County EMS Director Mike McAllister discussed the lightning strike that hit the 911 Center Sunday during Tuesday's Elk County commissioners meeting.

"Sunday a little after 3 p.m. we took a direct lightning strike to the tower. It was a catastrophic hit that came in on one of our radio antennas and came down through the system," McAllister said. "We did experience some sporadic outages throughout the building. At no point in time did we have any 911 failures. We were always able to receive 911 calls."

In the 18-19 years McAllister has had a presence at the center, lightning has only affected it twice. He said this strike was a "power hit" and there was equipment sparking as a result. No workers were hurt.

McAllister said if 911 calls would have failed to be received, there are other locations in the county they are directed to and answered.

"The radio system itself took the majority of the damage," McAllister said. "Everything we do, pretty much, has multiple redundancies within it. When the radios go down the first thing we do is bring in the Ridgway Fire Department so then we have mobile radios there, along with the county's mobile radios."

McAllister said the 911 center was back on line with radios to the emergency, fire and EMS services within a couple of hours. The secondary and tertiary systems are being reconstructed. McAllister said the center will be fully operational in the near future.

"We are able to communicate with all of our fire departments, ambulances and police services within minutes by phone. We let them know what happened, as is written within our policies and procedures," McAllister said. "If we get a call and can't contact them by radio, we can contact them directly at their station to dispatch them."

After there was an assessment of the radio system damage, back-up radio systems were brought in.

"All fire, police and EMS radios intercommunicate," McAllister said. "The infrastructures which have been put in allow us to lose a radio and put another one in, rather than keeping six or seven different types of radio. With this contingency plan, we don't necessarily have all the bells and whistles we do during normal operation, but our main goal is to be able to receive 911 calls from the public and be able to get those calls out to the proper agencies so they can respond to them."

In response to rumors that the system went down and there was no contingency plan, McAllister reiterated several times : "At no point in time did we have any public safety issues as far as being able to dial 911 and not being able to reach someone. Courier Express

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