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MERCER COUNTY 911 director explains reason for lightning hit



Published: Fri, July 13, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The lightning charge may have simply been too large.

By MARY GRZEBIENIAK

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

MERCER, Pa. -- Why did lightning hit the emergency operations center here despite many safeguards?

County 911 Director Jim Thompson said the power of nature itself may have overcome exhaustive efforts to make the building lightning-proof.

He told county commissioners Thursday that after a 1994 lightning strike, he hired a consulting firm for advice on avoiding further problems and implemented all recommendations for lightning protection, which is pretty sophisticated.

"Nobody carries anything into that building that I don't know how it will be grounded," he said.

Got hit: Lightning struck July 8, knocking out radio and telephone operations for several minutes, but leaving the building and personnel unharmed.

Thompson said the lightning charge may have simply been too large. He said he will meet soon with more grounding consultants to see what other protective actions can be taken.

It will be weeks before a damage estimate is final, although Thompson said 30 computer circuit boards valued at $1,500 apiece were ruined.

He said some costs will be covered under a lightning damage policy and insurance will cover some of the 161 hours of overtime that hourly employees had to work in the aftermath. No overtime will be paid to supervisory personnel.

10-minute lapse: The system was only down for about 10 minutes after the lightning strike before the center began taking 911 calls again. Some callers had to wait for more than six rings before the phone was transferred to an automatic backup feature. But he said that to his knowledge, no emergency calls were missed. Reports that the system was down for three days were inaccurate, Thompson said.




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