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December 27, 2012

Center needs backup to backup generator

LEWIS — When the power went out in the Essex County Emergency Operations Center, emergency-preparedness workers wondered why they were sitting in the dark.

County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish trudged to the bowels of the Public Service Building in Lewis to find that the emergency generator they rely on had failed.

The fuel pump on the generator had malfunctioned, plunging them into darkness in the Operations Center during Hurricane Sandy’s arrival.

“During that time, we were out of power roughly an hour and 10 minutes — lost our phones, lost our computer systems; everything went dark, and actually, there were no emergency lights up there either,” Jaquish said.

“During an emergency, we simply can’t have the EOC going dark, and the only reason the 911 Center stayed up was because we have a UPS (uninterruptable power supply) system that keeps that operating … roughly seven to eight hours on the batteries.”

The 911 facility has 85 large wet-cell batteries that form a UPS that automatically switches in during blackouts.

The solution, Jaquish said, is to wire the industrial UPS into the Emergency Operations Center as well and get a second generator.

“An auxiliary generator would power up just the backup batteries, so that in the event this happened again, we wouldn’t go dark, either the 911 Center nor the EOC. I realize it’s kind of like a backup for a backup.”

The County Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee unanimously authorized Jaquish to have the work done, and it gets a final vote at the board’s year-end meeting, which has been rescheduled for Monday due to today’s storm.

“I would think that would be absolutely necessary to have a dedicated generator for the EOC and the dispatch center, with a transfer switch hard-wired by itself,” Supervisor Gerald Morrow (D-Chesterfield) said. “I think for a matter of life and safety, you should have that.”

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