WJTV News Channel 12 - Pinellas 911 managers puzzled by lightning strike that knocked o

Pinellas 911 managers puzzled by lightning strike that knocked out phones

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For about 45 minutes last Friday, Pinellas 911 service was disrupted. For about 45 minutes last Friday, Pinellas 911 service was disrupted.
PInellas County's Administration Building PInellas County's Administration Building
Pinellas County's EMS building. Pinellas County's EMS building.

For about 45 minutes last Friday, Pinellas 911 callers were out of luck when they called for help. All they heard was ringing on the other end of the line after two or three lightning strikes disrupted service.

On Monday, Pinellas County emergency managers are still puzzled over how a power surge made its way past lightning rods and other electronic defenses to knock out communications with 911 calls, putting lives at risk during an intense thunderstorm when callers might help the most. "We;'re not sure yet," said Pinellas County Interim Chief of Staff Bruce Moeller.

An initial strike shortly after 11 a.m. hit Sunstar, which provides ambulance services in Pinellas County. The strike knocked out phones and started a small fire. A second strike, minutes later, blew out the computer cards on three servers at the new Pinellas County Public Safety Complex, a few miles away on Ulmerton Rd.

"I don't have any reason tobelievee there is avulnerabilityy with this new building,"said Moeller. "That being said, we're not taking anything off the table."

The combined effect shutdown Pinellas County's primary 911 communications as well as the backup, Sunstar.

It took 45 minutes before Verizon switched the 911 system to a second backup at St. Petersburg Police Headquarters, where police emergency operators began fielding calls for the entire county. The Pinellas 911 managers send half a dozen idled county operators to help handle the load.

Pinellas 911 Spokesman Tim Closterman tells 8 On Your Side the primary 911 system was up and running again by 9 a.m. on Saturday, but technicians still haven't determine the point of vulnerability or made any equipment changes to prevent the same thing from happening again in another lightning storm.

Emergency managers planned to meet with Verizon, Duke Energy, and the building contractor Monday afternoon to start sorting out what went wrong and brainstorming ways to keep it from happening again.

Moeller told Eight On Your Side a final report may take a month or more to produce.

Friday's Pinellas 911 outage followed a less severe disruption of calls five days earlier when some Pinellas 911 callers received a busy signal due to a faulty equipment at a Tampa switchboard owned by Verizon.

One man in St. Petersburg who thought he was having a stroke drove himself to the hospital after nine failed attempts that Sunday to reach 911.

Emergency managers tell us there were no reported adverse impacts from missed 911 calls during Friday's outage."We hope we don't hear of any," said Moeller.

8 On Your Side is still digging for answers on these emergency outages and what's being done to prevent a reoccurrence.

We'll have a live report with the latest information at 6 tonight on WFLA News Channel 8.

Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.


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