Lightning strike prompts move to fortify E-911 center against future damage

July 15, 2009

Neal Wagner -


The Columbus-Lowndes E-911 board of commissioners soon may be seeking outside help to fortify the county''s E-911 call center against lightning damage, board members said during a Tuesday night meeting. 


The discussion came a few weeks after the E-911 call center, in a small wing off the east side of the Lowndes County Courthouse, received a direct lightning hit during a June 12 thunderstorm.  


During the strike, the call center''s voice recorder and security camera were damaged, according to E-911 Chairwoman Beverly Broocks. 


"The recorder was not covered under the maintenance contract, so we are still waiting to hear how much it will cost to get it fixed," Broocks said, noting the county previously authorized an emergency payment not to exceed $500 to repair the recorder. 


"Our security camera was also hit," Broocks added. "We don''t have a dollar amount on getting that fixed yet because we are still waiting for the estimate on the recorder." 


According to consultants who studied the equipment after the strike, the lightning likely entered the building through the courthouse bell tower before making its way into the call center, Broocks said.  


"The way I understand it, when there is a direct hit like that, it gets more complicated when you''re trying to protect your equipment," Broocks told the board. "Once it enters the building, it has to find electricity to complete the return trip. 


"When our high-draw equipment is the only thing up and running in the building, like it usually is on nights and weekends, the lightning feeds on the electricity from our equipment," Broocks added.  


Because lightning directly has struck the call center and damaged equipment at least once more during the past year, board members proposed seeking "heavy duty" surge protection in the courthouse. 


"We really need to start thinking about getting someone who knows what they are doing to come in and look about installing a complete protection system," Broocks said. "When it''s a direct strike, lightning just laughs at normal surge protectors and things like that." 




Budget amendments 


In other business, the board discussed amendments to the department''s 2009-2010 fiscal year budget. 


E-911 officials this week will submit the department''s budget proposal to Lowndes County Administrator Ralph Billingsley before the budget is approved by the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors. 


In the proposal, E-911 officials will request the county allow E-911 to hire an administrative assistant and budget up to $65,000 to purchase a new computer-assisted dispatch system. 


"In the past, we had in place a budget item for that (administrative assistant position)," Broocks told the board. "Last year, (E-911 Director) Sheri Fancher kind of did a Yeoman''s job to deal without having that position. 


"The county saw that and decided she could survive without that position," Broocks added. "But that is a needed position, and we will ask for that budget item to be returned this year." 


E-911 officials also will ask the county to allot up to $65,000 to purchase a new computer-assisted dispatch system, Broocks explained. The system allows 911 dispatchers to more easily keep track of pending emergency calls, monitor the status of calls and several other emergency management duties.  


"A committee will be set up to handle the CAD upgrade study before it is purchased," Broocks said. "We hope we will be able to get that money in the budget this year."