Why does lightning strike 911 center? Firm is studying solution to hits

July 22, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

Say "lightning" to Howard Redman and watch him cringe.

"They say lightning never strikes twice in the same place. Don't believe it," said Mr. Redman, who is chief of Carroll's Bureau of Emergency Operations Services.

Lightning has hit the county's Emergency Operations Center at 1345 Washington Road five times in the past 10 years, including twice in the past month.

Why is Mother Nature torturing "Buddy" Redman and his staff?

He's trying to find out. He hired Equipment Protection Services Inc. of Glen Rock, Pa., to study the problem. The engineering consulting company may have a report finished tomorrow. One of the company's engineers visited the center Tuesday.

The company is charging $3,500 for the report, Mr. Redman said.

"I've talked to more engineers. They all have a different opinion about what should be done," he said.

He said he has talked with six engineers who work for companies that have sold emergency operations equipment to the county. They have not charged for their advice.

The last two lightning strikes -- on July 6 and June 20 -- knocked out the county's 911 emergency system and damaged the Emergency Operation Center's phone system. The phone system was replaced for about $5,000, Mr. Redman said.

When lightning hit on June 20, no 911 calls were answered for about two hours, he said. He estimated that emergency personnel missed about six calls for help in that period.

After the July 6 strike, no 911 calls were answered for about 1 1/2 hours, he said.

After both strikes, emergency calls eventually were handled at the Westminster Fire Department.

The Emergency Operations Center also was hit by lightning in August 1991, once in the mid-1980s and once in the late 1980s, he said.

Repairs to the system after the 1991 strike cost about $17,000, he said. He did not know the repair costs for damages in the previous two strikes.

The center uses two towers on Washington Road, one on Gorsuch Road outside Westminster, one at the Sykesville-Freedom fire station and a receiving tower on Water Tank Road outside Manchester.

None of the outlying towers has been hit, Mr. Redman said.

The problem may be that some equipment at the center is not grounded properly, he said. Grounding electrical equipment diverts electricity from a lightning strike away from people and equipment and into the ground.

In the last two strikes, electricity has surged through antennas on the towers and through phone lines, Mr. Redman said.

Emergency Operations Center equipment was installed at different times and so was grounded at different times, Mr. Redman said. The center was moved from the basement of the Carroll County Detention Center at 100 N. Court St. to the current site in November 1983. Carroll's 911 service started in January 1984.

One engineer likened a lightning strike to a stone hitting a pond and creating a ripple effect, he said. When lightning hits, it can cause a lot of damage.

"It can be expensive," Mr. Redman said.

He said he is frustrated by the process.

"Every time I hear the word 'thunderstorm,' I say, 'Please, no.' I know we need rain, but let's have rain without thunderstorms. It's real nerve-racking now," Mr. Redman said.

Monday night's storm stayed south of the center, he added.

Mr. Redman said he hopes to make recommendations to the county commissioners next week about what should be done to solve the problems.

"There's no way to stop Mother Nature from hitting you. But, hopefully, we can do something -- hopefully, before the next thunderstorm," he said.

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