Broken AC unit threatens fire communication equipment

With the backup dispatch center not yet operations, an equipment failure could have compromised response

Brennan David
The Columbia Daily Tribune 

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Joe Piper, interim director of joint communications, steps around a makeshift air vent set up to cool the Public Safety Joint Communications Center after its air conditioner broke Thursday, endangering some of the center's equipment.

Expensive computers, servers and some obsolete equipment at Columbia's Public Safety Joint Communications Center were at risk of failure yesterday as the result of a broken air conditioner.

The potential disaster was averted yesterday morning, though, when the Columbia Fire Department arrived at the center's headquarters in the Columbia Police Department with a large, portable air-conditioning unit, said Joe Piper, interim director of joint communications. A replacement air compressor was later found to make the necessary repair.

Temperatures inside the 911 center reached 85 degrees yesterday morning, and it was even warmer at work stations where computer equipment was running.

The multimillion-dollar equipment operating in the center is not designed to run in an environment above 80 degrees.

Some of the radio equipment is obsolete, which means replacement parts cannot be ordered.

"A system failure would have been a crisis," Piper said. "We would not be able to continue service."

The reason for that, he said, is because the facility's backup 911 center at the Boone County Sheriff's Department is not yet fully operational. Taking calls would not be the problem, Piper said, but the dispatch capabilities would have hindered service.

Around 5:45 p.m. Thursday, employees began to notice the temperature rising in the joint communications center. City maintenance crews worked throughout the night to find a solution, and they eventually found what they needed was available in St. Louis. The compressor was modified yesterday morning, shipped and installed.

Meanwhile, portable air conditioning ducts lined the hallways of the building to carry air from room to room until the new equipment could be installed. Desperate for a backup plan, city crews also cut holes in the wall that separates the center from the police department in an effort to funnel cool air. That plan did not work.

"We were concerned about the heat, but people go walk to the police department to cool down," Piper said. "Our main concern was the equipment."

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