Sheriff, staff coping with ‘big mess’ at jail
Monday’s power outage that occurred when a Public Service Company pole broke caused more problems in Arapaho than the public realized, especially at the Custer County Jail.
However, none of the problems were ones that couldn’t be handled – or hopefully can’t be handled when the right people are contacted.
Sheriff Kenneth Tidwell told county commissioners at their meeting this week, which was delayed from Monday to Tuesday because of the outage, that a generator which was supposed to come on automatically did not, so the jail was without power temporarily for a few minutes until someone went out and manually started it.
“It’s programmed to fire up in five seconds,” said Tidwell, “and that process did not occur.”
Other problems popped up later when normal electricity was restored.
“We were on manual generator power when the line power came back on, and there was a fail-safe in place to keep too much power from coming into the building,” said Tidwell. “So when it came back on, we still lost power to the building. Everybody in Arapaho had lights except us.”
That meant more time had to be spent figuring out how to get normal electricity back into the building. Tidwell credited Jail Administrator Jerry Wood with having the courage to do that.
“I don’t know how many volts were coming in,” he said. “We had a handle which you have to put on a bar and move from one slot to another. The only one brave enough to do that was Jerry Wood.”
Tidwell said Wood was simultaneously on the phone with a generator technician who was walking him through the process.
He estimated that took 30 minutes.
Asked if things were getting quite cool by then, since the outside temperature was well below freezing, the sheriff said no.
“The jail actually holds heat rather well,” he said. “Last night it (the electricity) was down a couple of hours, but it stayed comfortable.”
And rather isolated.
“When power goes off, the doors are locked,” explained Tidwell. “The only way you can get out is with a key.”
And of course not very many people in the jail have a key.
“We’re dealing with systems issues,” continued the sheriff. “After the power came back on, I don’t know if it was electrical or computer related, but there was an issue with opening our doors remotely. We were having to do it with keys.”
Complicating the issue is the fact that when the system was installed about 10 years ago when the then-new jail was built, an out-of-state contractor was used. Not just a little out of state, all the way from Indiana.
At the time he was speaking, Tidwell said, “I don’t know if they can remotely dial in to fix it or if they’ll have to send somebody out. And if they do have to send somebody out, I don’t know where they’ll have to come from.”
He was hoping the company might have somebody in Oklahoma City, but he didn’t know at that time, since it was still within a few hours of the problem having occurred. And most of those hours had been outside normal business hours.
Tidwell said the name of the company he’s dealing with is Stanley Integrator Services, which is part of Stanley Tools.
Earlier, before going into that much detail, he had given county commissioners an overview of the problems.
He said there also had been “controller issues” with a heat exchanger, unrelated to the power outage.
“Two months ago one of the controllers went out on our heat exchanger,” he said. “The person that put it in used proprietary software, and he has died. We’re having to manually turn the heaters on and off. The people that make the controllers won’t call Jerry back.”
Tidwell said the system has new controllers and new software and they’re supposed to talk to each other, but apparently they aren’t speaking.
“It’s a big old mess,” he said. “I might have to totally replace the system. I don’t know what that’s going to cost.”
As for opening and closing doors, he said. “We’ve got to call the people that put it in (those are the ones back in Indiana). They may have to send a technician out. Meantime we’re doing it manually; it’s old school.”
Until more help arrives, Tidwell told commissioners he’s just happy to get heat and lights back to the building.
“We’ve got keys to the doors,” he said.
When Monday’s power outage occurred, he said two trustees got stuck between two sliding doors.
One of the commissioners wanted to know what he had done about that.
“At that point we had other issues,” answered Tidwell. “They weren’t going to freeze to death.”