Piscataquis County’s defense center ill prepared for an emergency

Posted March 22, 2011, at 10:30 p.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine  — A downed tree limb that caused a power outage at Piscataquis County’s emergency operations bunker in Milo recently brought to light some serious maintenance problems at the facility.

Tom Iverson Jr., the county’s Emergency Management Agency director, advised county commissioners Tuesday that the outage prompted an emergency generator to kick in automatically. What no one knew, he said, was that the water-cooling system in place was unable to maintain the generator for more than three days. During that period, the water pump for the cooling system burned out.

In discussing the water pump replacement, Iverson said he learned that the only way the generator now in place can be used for more than three days at a time is to install a radiator on the bunker’s roof for a cooling system. He also found out that the furnace inside the bunker was not hooked into the generator. Had there been a real emergency, Iverson said, he would have had to shut down the bunker.

“Better to find out now before you have a real emergency,’’ Commissioner Tom Lizotte said. ‘’In an emergency situation, you have to be focused exclusively on the emergency itself rather than on that basic infrastructure.’’

Iverson said that when the power outage occurred, $200 to $300 worth of food used by the Meals for Me program also was destroyed. The kitchen is used by the Eastern Area on Aging to prepare meals for its satellite Meals for Me programs.

Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. was supposed to have restored the power last Friday, according to Iverson, but has not yet done so. Iverson said he told a power company official that the bunker is a priority since it’s the county’s emergency operations center and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather station. The company, he said, doesn’t view it as a priority.

County Manager Marilyn Tourtelotte said the county’s insurance provider visited the bunker to inspect the damage, some of which is covered under the county’s plan.

The commissioners agreed that Iverson should hire an engineering firm to provide an objective look at the entire system inside the bunker to see what other problems might exist and how best to restore the system.

‘’We’ve got to look outside the box and say not only what we need today but what we need tomorrow,’’ Iverson said. He noted that the county is installing a new repeater system inside the bunker for radio communications. ‘’We can’t be playing around with this. This is a vital building.’’

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