The Ottumwa Courier

March 13, 2013

Leak destroys 911 equipment

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — One frozen pipe led to the total destruction of the dispatch center’s 911 equipment over the weekend, causing thousands of dollars in damage and calls to be re-routed.

Interim Ottumwa Police Chief Tom McAndrew said dispatchers lost their ability to use the telephone system Sunday night, though he said the software showed that no 911 calls were missed.

“We discovered something leaking through the roof and one of the tiles in the ceiling fell and we lost our phones,” McAndrew said.

A representative from the telecommunications company came down to examine the damage on Monday and found a lot of water in the system.

The equipment puts off a lot of heat, which is why an air conditioning unit runs year-round to keep everything cool. But a pipe froze due to low freon pressure in the system, causing it to develop ice, which ran down a pipe and dripped over the equipment, shorting the system.

“Why the A/C system is right above the electronics room, that’s something to do with the engineering of the building,” McAndrew said. “I question that also, as to why they put a unit like that right above a quarter million dollars worth of equipment. But we didn’t design the building, so I can’t comment on why the system is up there.”

The system that was destroyed cost at least $140,000. And if the unit had leaked just 1 foot over, the department’s $180,000 worth of brand new radio equipment would have also been destroyed.

“The whole system is shot, and there’s no way of fixing it,” McAndrew said. “So we’re scrambling right now to get quotes from different vendors who offer that type of equipment.”

The entire 12-year-old system will need to be replaced, and McAndrew said the city’s E-911 board and the law center’s insurance will determine whether the cost to replace the system will be covered.

“It is a replacement system, but we may want a little better system than what we’re replacing,” McAndrew said of the outdated system.

The re-routing of calls should not cause any significant delays in response time, he said.

The department’s contingency plan immediately went into effect, and calls have been re-routed to Mahaska County.

The first agency calls are transferred to in case of an emergency is Mahaska County, next is Jefferson County and third is Davis County.

“If you dial 911 in Ottumwa from a land line, it will go to Mahaska County, who will then transfer the call to our dispatcher,” McAndrew said. “Now, if you’re calling 911 from a cell phone, you have to talk to the dispatcher in Mahaska County, who will then relay the information to us. They can’t transfer calls from a cell phone. It has to do with the software.”

While all calls from Ottumwa will go to Mahaska County, all calls from Wapello County outside of Ottumwa city limits will go to Davis County.

“The reason we did that is there was a chance of snow, and we didn’t want to overload Mahaska County,” McAndrew said. “Mahaska County says it’s handling it — no problem right now. We have offered to send up a dispatcher from our agency to help, but as of right now they don’t need help.”

The plan now is to have Winger Contracting Company construct a specialized, over-sized drip pan with an alarm on it “in case this happens again,” McAndrew said. On top of that, the department is considering installing sheet metal over some of the equipment in case of another leak.

“The building does have a flat roof, and with all the metal in the building, it could leak 20 feet away through the roof, get on a beam and run all the way over to a different area and leak on equipment,” he said.