Lebanon County has been fortunate that work on its $30 million 911 Center has stayed on schedule despite ongoing supply chain issues in the construction industry.

Read More: New 911 Center construction project on schedule; set to open this summer

That good luck, however, has apparently run out. 

The county is having problems obtaining critical infrastructure that works to distribute electricity throughout the building, according to Bob Dowd, director of Lebanon County Emergency Management Services.

Dowd said the still-to-be-delivered equipment is similar to a breaker box that someone would have in their home, except this equipment is custom designed specifically for the electrical needs of large-scale, critical operational commercial facilities like schools, hospitals, and data centers.

(Northern Lebanon School District had similar issues, but its equipment has been delivered, installed, and inspected successfully. That means the new elementary school is set to open on schedule in September.)

“This is a custom-designed electrical system for the building and this switch gear is also built-to-order,” added Dowd, who noted the gear is unlike a residential breaker box in that it is quite large.

The switch gear that’s needed to power the 911 Center is not just one piece of equipment, either. 

To give readers a visual image of the equipment, Dowd equated it to the electrical gear that’s seen being shutdown in the movie Jurassic Park or other films where big levers are flipped on or off at the source. 

“The switch gear is a broad term for a lot of equipment that we have coming in now and the stuff that is currently in testing is only a portion of it, but there are other things that we still don’t have updates on,” he said. “You have Met-Ed that brings power to a certain point, its transformer there. From that point on, it (power) comes into our building and it goes through a set of equipment that distributes it to all of the distribution panels.”

Dowd added that the equipment needed to power the 911 Center has nothing to do with Met-Ed, noting their gear is “ready to rock and roll.” 

“It’s the equipment that is the first stop when electricity comes into the building. Primary disk connects and the same set of equipment that is responsible for transmitting between commercial and generator power,” he added.

Dowd emphasized that these delays will have no impact on 911 and other critical services the DES delivers to county residents.

“We’re moving to a more appropriate facility for our mission but we’re able to continue functioning where we are (the county building) for the time being,” said Dowd. “The current location, at this point, is going to remain as our back-up location once we are operational in the new building.”

Dowd told LebTown that 911 centers are always operational, meaning there’s never a time when operations go offline – including when the ops center is ready to move from its current location, the county’s municipal building, to the new facility in North Cornwall Township.

“You don’t turn this stuff off, you can’t turn this stuff off,” said Dowd. “You don’t unplug your 911 equipment and move it over to a new place. The timing was intentional for a lot of this. A lot of the systems that we refresh every five years were coming to that point, so we’re at the refresh point, and we’re not throwing out stuff. That’s not what we do.”

The new systems being built will operate as the primary service provider of 911 services once the electrical gear arrives, is installed and passes inspection protocols. The county’s current 911 ops center systems will then take on a different role, added Dowd. 

“The stuff that is our current equipment, when you move it to a back-up role, will allow us to squeeze some more life out of it. That equipment is not being decommissioned,” he said.

Dowd said a downside of the supply-chain delays is that the timetable to complete other portions of the building have also been delayed.

“Not having power has pushed (back) other things as well,” said Dowd. “There’s a process that goes along with commissioning a building like this. The manufacturer (of the AC products) has to come out and do a certified start-up process for that. …The whole process takes 30 to 60 days, so obviously that’s been pushed because you can’t do that until there’s electric to turn them on.”

Dowd said that the delay in delivering electricity throughout the building is the only portion of the construction project that’s behind schedule.

“It’s not that we’re behind schedule anywhere else outside of the electrical stuff, but electrical does have an impact, a ripple effect all the way down through the project,” he said. “Once we get the electrical gear, it’s installed and up and running, there’s still a couple of months of work to be done by the various contractors to get all of the systems up and running, tested, configured and certified.”

Dowd added that the delay is providing time to better plan the eventual move.  

“Yes, there are construction delays related to the electrical gear and that should be here and moving by now, but this still is not a significant problem,” he said. “Frankly, it’s allowing us more time to plan the (physical) move and work out the details of all of those things that have to go over there. We are moving forward with that, work is progressing.” 

He noted at least 80 percent of the interior work is completed.

“Drywall is up, painting is done, the flooring is going down, the trim is going in some places, we’re moving along,” said Dowd. “Electrical hasn’t stopped the painting or the ceiling tiles from going in. Those other things are happening and should be completed within the next 60 days.”

Exterior work is moving along nicely as well, he said, and is about four to six weeks from completion.

“The last coat of blacktop is set for the end of September, and is one of those things that will make the building look more finished,” said Dowd. “The finishing touches are going to become visible as you drive by. The grass is growing. The helipad is done. The first coat of pavement has been down for quite some time now. …The siding is moving forward.” 

While all of the other moving parts of a massive project this complex are going smoothly, it’s the delay in the delivery of the switch gear that’s still worrisome. 

If the switch gear isn’t onsite within the next 60 days, Dowd said the construction project will ”really have to slow down” given the complex nature of ensuring the 911 Center equipment is ready to operate once the switch gear does arrive and is installed.  

“This is complex equipment and redundancy has to be built into it,” he explained. “This is not just commercial power coming in. This has to be connected to the generator and is similar to electrical systems in a hospital or a data center – any place that can never go without power.”

Redundancy is the ability to utilize backup systems for critical parts of the system if any of those critical parts were to fail. 

“Our industry has an expectation of zero down time, and we work hard to ensure there is no down time,” said Dowd. “Redundancy is expensive, and to do it correctly is important, really important. We never want a time where you can’t call 911. This is critical infrastructure and it’s important to protect the integrity of the building. You don’t get to go back and undo what you’ve done if it’s wrong. The integrity of the building has to be protected.” 

Dowd demurred when LebTown asked when the new 911 Center might be open for business. 

“Until something shows up at our door, I am not putting an official timetable on it,” he said of the missing switch gear.  “But what I can say is I am optimistic that at least some of the functions of the department will still move over this calendar year.” 

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...