Power surge knocks out police dispatch service

City, county to weigh repair vs. replacement

BROOKINGS – A Friday night power surge caused what will be a costly fix at the Brookings Police Department, after the surge severely damaged the dispatch center’s radio system.

A temporary alternative system was quickly put in place, but things aren’t back 100 percent yet.

“We’re operating, but we’re not operating efficiently,” Brookings Police Chief Dave Erickson told Brookings County commissioners during their Tuesday meeting. “The quicker we get this system up and running again, the better.”

Thankfully, no major emergencies occurred while the system was totally down, he added.

Erickson was at the Tuesday county meeting to inform the commissioners of the situation.

According to Erickson, he was alerted about 10 p.m. Friday that the power had gone out for a short time at the police department. When the power returned, however, the radio system was not operational.

“When the power cut and came back on, that’s when we received that surge,” Erickson said.

All of BPD’s sensitive equipment is plugged into what’s called an uninterruptible power supply. It acts as a battery backup system so if they do lose power and their generator fails, then they have some battery power with which to continue to run the plugged-in systems.

It’s also supposed to act as a surge protector, “so we’re investigating why there was a failure there,” Erickson said.

He quickly contacted Sioux Falls Two-Way Radio Service, the department’s radio vendor. For the next couple of hours, they tried what they could over the phone to get the system back up and running, to no avail. That night, a technician was sent to Brookings to look into the system.

During this time, dispatch only had use of two radio channels, analog and state radio.

Erickson contacted Brookings County Sheriff Marty Stanwick to inform him of the situation, and all law enforcement officers then switched their channels to analog so dispatch could communicate with them. Fire and ambulance services were likewise contacted and informed of the situation.

One of the dispatchers was moved to the Sheriff’s Office, which is their backup location, while the other remained at BPD.

“So, we were able to dispatch for PD from the police department, but any paging or communications with the ambulance and fire, we had to do that from the Sheriff’s Office,” Erickson said. “Our two dispatchers had to work together and learn a new system real quick, which they did, and I commend them very highly for the job that they did.”

He then got another call from Sioux Falls Two-Way on Saturday morning with a few answers on the problem the department faced in getting their systems running properly again.

The problem was specific to the dispatchers, not officers out in the field. As Erickson explained, “Nothing happened to the radio frequencies. Officers and people in the field could still talk on these frequencies. It was just dispatch’s ability to communicate out of the building and to have access to all these channels.”

Their radio system utilizes a server rack to operate the radio system for the dispatch center. The server rack contains eight cards in it, and each card handles two radio frequencies. All but one of their cards were damaged beyond repair from the power surge.

“That’s why we were still able to communicate on the PD channel that night, which was a godsend that we at least had that,” Erickson said.

Until a permanent fix is made or the system is replaced, Sioux Falls Two-Way has loaned dispatch a radio box that has given them use of 10 radio frequencies, but only one dispatcher can communicate over the radio at a time.

“It’s on loan to us, but I would like to consider purchasing that and having that over at the Sheriff’s Office when this is done. What’s there got us through, but it is very old and not very efficient. This box would provide a better backup system than what we currently have. But I’ll have to get a price quote on that, and that’s for later discussion as well,” Erickson said.

He has yet to receive an official quote from Sioux Falls Two-Way on the costs to repair or replace the system, but in their off-the-cuff talks, they explained that the system in place at the dispatch center is “very antiquated.”

“It is out of date. The cards that I spoke of, that’s not something they can just pull off the shelf somewhere. Those have to be built special for this rack because they are not produced any more,” Erickson said.

In those informal talks, Erickson said they guessed it could cost between $40,000 and $50,000 to replace those seven ruined cards.

Sioux Falls Two-Way had said that they are unable to further diagnose anything within the server rack and its system until they have functional cards in place. 

“They could get these cards repaired, plug them into the system and discover that there’s further damage that was caused internally inside the system,” Erickson said.

The other option they have is to replace the whole server rack system. Again, the estimate they put forth to Erickson at the time was an informal one, but they had told him a new system could cost $150,000.

Insurance could help cover some of the costs, although just how much it would cover in either scenario is unknown at this time, Erickson said.

Replacing the damaged server cards would likely take one or two months. The reason it’d take that long to replace them is because they’d have to be built from scratch.

Replacement of the whole system might be able to happen quicker than that, Erickson said, but he hasn’t yet received an estimate on how long that process could be.

Brookings County Commission Chairwoman Lee Ann Pierce believed the decision to purchase a new system would likely be done through the E-911 board, with follow up approval from the city council and the county commission.

The next county meetings are scheduled for Dec. 18 and Dec. 27.

“It would be really nice if we were able to have something from the E-911 board, if we’re going to replace the whole system, recommendations for our Dec. 18 and approve it at that time,” Pierce said. “We’re able to do that if you’ve got the numbers.”

Erickson was concerned that having to wait on making a decision until both county and city had a chance to vote on the matter would further delay the process.

“We could reach out and get a consensus prior to the Dec. 18 meeting if E-911 is making a recommendation,” Pierce offered.

Still, it will have to come before the full board eventually, although a special meeting could be called to help speed things along once information regarding costs and insurance as well as any recommendations are available.

Contact Eric Sandbulte at [email protected]


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