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911 operators forced to take calls on single cell phone during storm




The Lowndes County Emergency Management board of directors has passed a resolution requesting the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors immediately replace E-911''s backup generator. 




The meeting was called in response to the events surrounding Friday night''s storm in which all of downtown Columbus lost power service for several hours. E-911 also lost electricity, but is supposed to be serviced by an emergency generator. The generator failed to start, leaving the emergency service in the dark and cut off from all communication save one cell phone and four hand-held radios for more than two hours. 




"It wasn''t an issue where we were out of power for only an hour," said E-911 Director Sheri Fancher. "It took two hours for the generator to be turned on, and another two hours for all our computers and equipment to begin functioning properly." 




Because all the phones in the E-911 office were off-line during the power outage, Fancher had the phone company route all incoming 911 calls to her personal cell phone. 




"We had wrecks, we had fires and we only had one call getting through at a time," said Fancher. 




The service lost power at approximately 4 Friday afternoon and regained full functionality around 8.  




Fancher said the generator is at least 15 years old, and was bought used when originally purchased by the county. 




The language of the resolution asks the board immediately to purchase a new generator at a cost not to exceed $22,000. The purchase would also be required to cover regular parts and maintenance services. 




At one time the Board of Supervisors approved the purchase of a much larger generator, but it was later decided to attempt to fix the old one. 




Friday night''s failure is thought to be the result of dead batteries in the generator. Because the system is automatically tested each Tuesday, officials are not sure what caused the generator to fail. 


Friday night''s problems were not the first. According to Fancher, during the tornado which ravaged Caledonia in early 2008 E-911 also lost power, and the generator also failed to function. 




"Something has to be done," said Fancher. "We missed hundreds of calls Friday night."




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