COUNTY — On May 31 at 17:24 (5:24 p.m.) lightning struck at the Oxford County Regional Communications Center, blowing out every piece of equipment at dispatch and setting off alarms, knocking out lights and wreaking havoc through out the county complex in South Paris. The complex is home to superior and district courts, the jail, sheriff’s, treasurer’s, deeds and assessor’s offices.

On July 26, the last piece of equipment at dispatch was finally working again … the doorbell.

Responsible for the damage detection, repair and replacement of the entire dispatch system was Rick Davol of Communications Consulting Services Inc. in Gray.

The cost to replace most of the equipment – which includes not only the five-monitor desks of which there are four, but microphones, headphones and all the computer and radio hardware hidden away in the bowels of the dispatch office – was approximately $250,000, says OCRCC Director Jim Miclon.

“We are still working with insurance,” says Deputy Director Geff Inman, “to dot all the ‘i’s’ and cross all the ‘t’s’ before the claim can be paid.”

There is an $1,800 deductible. Until the insurance check comes in, the OCRCC budget is experiencing a “tremendous strain,” says Miclon, explaining that the budget also has to cover planned work on some of the towers and is streamlined to begin with, having little room for the unexpected.

On a positive note, the equipment supply companies refuse to repair any equipment that has been hit by lightning as it cannot warranty it nor even guarantee it can be relied on, says Inman. Consequently, everything has been replaced with new, state-of-the-art equipment.

“It doesn’t change the way we operate,” Inman explains. “It just means dispatchers have to tweak the way they do a couple of things.”

According to dispatchers, it was simply a bit of a learning curve to learn a new way of doing such things as sending out tones. However, none of those receiving the tones can tell any difference.

In fact, since the week of the lightning strike, many of those being dispatched didn’t realize the equipment was not back up and running.

This is because, says Inman, everything ran so seamlessly “because of all the planning and preparation for the worst case [this was] done by EMA, dispatchers and vendors.

“Every time we’ve encountered a system problem, we’ve built a back-up. For example, we had a generator problem on one of the towers a while ago so in addition to fixing it we also built a battery backup [should it happen again].

“We have many redundant systems that enabled us to get through this.”

These included a few weeks of dispatching from the mobile dispatch unit located elsewhere while answering 911 calls at the center.

Davol of Communications Consulting Services says, “This dispatch center did a fantastic job working its way through this disaster … it’s a big deal when you lose all communications.”

He noted the Oxford County Commissioners have been “outstanding … people can be proud of them. Chair Timothy G. Turner has been here numerous times and out to our other sites – they are behind us all the way.”

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