PINELLAS (970 WFLA) - For about 45 minutes last Friday, Pinellas 911 callers were out of luck when they called for help. All they heard was ringing on the other end of the line after two lightning strikes disrupted service.
On Monday, Pinellas County emergency managers are still puzzled over how a power surge made its way past lightning rods and other electronic defenses to knock out communications with 911 calls, putting lives at risk during an intense thunderstorm when callers might help the most.
An initial strike shortly after 11 a.m. hit Sunstar, which provides ambulance services in Pinellas County. The strike knocked out phones and started a small fire. A second strike, minutes later, blew out the computer cards on three servers at the new Pinellas County Public Safety Complex, a few miles away on Ulmerton Rd.
The combined effect shutdown Pinellas County's primary 911 communications as well as the backup, Sunstar.
It took a while before Verizon switched the 911 system to a second backup at St. Petersburg Police Headquarters, where police emergency operators began fielding calls for the entire county. The Pinellas 911 managers send half a dozen idled county operators to help handle the load.