Electrical problem shuts down Hawkins County 911

Jeff Bobo • Aug 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Hawkins County 911 dispatcher Teresa Whitaker mans her station Tuesday shortly after power was restored to the system.


ROGERSVILLE - Whom do 911 dispatchers call when they have an emergency?

In the case of Hawkins County 911 Central Dispatch Tuesday morning, they called their counterparts in Kingsport and Rogersville.

Around 9 a.m. Tuesday, Hawkins County Central Dispatch completely shut down due to an apparent electrical problem.

Dispatcher Teresa Whitaker and 911 Director Gay Murrell were working the switchboard at the time. As the power went off, they both smelled smoke.

The shutdown occurred only in the 911 control room, and Whitaker rushed into the 911 administrative office and used the telephone to call for Rogersville fire and police assistance. Rogersville has its own 911 emergency dispatch separate from the county system.

Meanwhile Murrell called Kingsport Central Dispatch to arrange for all emergency calls coming into Hawkins County to be rerouted to Kingsport.

The process took about three minutes, during which time Hawkins County was without 911 service.

Rogersville firefighters arrived quickly at the 911 office, and with the use of a thermal imaging camera determined that there was no fire.

An electrician arrived soon after the fire department, and upon inspection said the odor of smoke had come from the 911 system’s backup batteries, which apparently overheated.

Hawkins County Central Dispatch had no air conditioning Tuesday morning, and the electrical problem was likely caused by heat.

Initially there was a power outage that switched the 911 system onto the backup battery system. When that occurs, there is an alarm which sounds from a control room, but with fans running in the dispatcher room no one heard the alarm.

As the alarm sounded, the backup batteries apparently overheated and shorted out, and the system went blank.

Within a half hour another power source had been routed to the dispatchers room, and Hawkins County 911 was back online.

“It’s been so hot in here, and we were very busy taking calls all morning, and we just didn’t hear the alarm,” Murrell said. “When the power shut down we kind of panicked for a second because we didn’t know what was happening. But we put the emergency plan into effect and got everything rerouted, and we only had two or three minutes of downtime.

“The Rogersville Fire Department got here really quick and cleared us to come back in, and we were up and running again in about 30 minutes.”

Murrell added, however, that this may not be the end of the problem.

By late Tuesday morning, technicians had determined that the air-conditioning system in the 911 office cannot be repaired and must be replaced. That will require emergency action from the county mayor’s office to be completed quickly.

“We’re OK for right now, but I’m very concerned about the impact this heat is going to have on our equipment and my dispatchers,” Murrell said. “It’s very uncomfortable down here, and the fans are just blowing around hot air. We’re going to need a new air-conditioning system, so hopefully some emergency funding can be allocated.”

County Mayor Crockett Lee said Tuesday he was arranging to have portable air units placed in the dispatcher room temporarily. When the county is presented with a cost estimate, Lee said a permanent solution to the 911 air-conditioning problem will be addressed.

Electricians were on hand Tuesday installing a strobe light alarm in the dispatchers room to replace the sound alarm that the dispatchers did not hear.

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