Lightning knocks out 911 system 600 utility customers lose power


Lightning scored a direct hit on Carroll County's Emergency Operations Center Tuesday night, knocking the 911 emergency system off the air for more than two hours and leaving the system with only one of its three radio frequencies operational yesterday.

The lightning, part of a severe electrical storm that moved through the central county, also left some 600 utility customers temporarily without power about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, officials said.

Michael Clapsaddle, an emergency center shift supervisor, said lightning struck the center about 11:50 p.m. Tuesday. The county's emergency radio system remained off the air until about 2 a.m. yesterday.

Mr. Clapsaddle said the lightning -- which ran down outside antennas, through antenna cables and into the unit's electronic equipment -- was worse than a similar strike June 20, which also knocked the 911 system out for several hours.

He said the lightning strike Tuesday night disabled radios, the computer assisted dispatch system, telephones and the 911 data base used for transferring equipment from one firehouse to another to maintain emergency coverage.

The lightning also may have damaged a new $60,000 computer printer, the supervisor said.

The emergency center is equipped with a backup generator for power, and dispatch personnel remained at the center to resume limited operations when the power was restored, Mr. Clapsaddle said.

Part-time personnel at the center also kept the system operational by using radios at the Westminster firehouse to dispatch fire equipment. Emergency officials did the same thing to maintain emergency radio service June 20.

Mr. Clapsaddle said yesterday that it was unclear how much of the damaged equipment can be repaired and that the cost of repairing or replacing it was unknown.

A new phone system is expected to be installed by the weekend. A text telephone for hearing-impaired callers was destroyed by the storm, and a replacement was expected to be in place today.

Despite all that, EOC representatives said 911 calls were being received and acted upon immediately by yesterday afternoon and that they thought callers would be unaware of the problems.

Peggy Mulloy, a spokeswoman at Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., said about 500 customers lost power during the storm. Service had been restored to all but about 100 customers by 7 a.m. yesterday, and the rest had their service back by 10 a.m., she said.

A Potomac Edison Co. spokesman reported that about 75 customers lost service in western Carroll and that all but one had power back by 7 a.m.

Five emergency fire calls were received during the storm, emergency center officials reported.

The first was for a house struck by lightning on Arters Mill Road at 11:03 p.m. Fire equipment from Pleasant Valley and Taneytown in the county, and Littlestown and Kingsdale, Pa., was dispatched to the scene. Units were out for 40 minutes.

Pleasant Valley firefighters also were dispatched for wires on fire on Pinch Valley Road at 11:47 p.m. They were out for 47 minutes.

Westminster, Reese, Pleasant Valley and Manchester units were dispatched to investigate a possible gas leak on Charles Street at 11:42 p.m. They were out for 34 minutes.

Westminster firefighters responded to investigate the report of a fire on Washington Road at 12:14 a.m. They were out for 45 minutes.

They also responded to a call about trees down across Old Washington Road at 1:02 a.m. They were out for 40 minutes.

No injuries were reported in any of those incidents.

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