For nearly 48 hours last week, Hall County’s emergency 911 center relied on a generator to remain operational as a crippling ice storm brought down trees, knocked out power for tens of thousands of residents and made many residential streets impassable.
While calls to 911 went uninterrupted during that time, county officials said they fear a repeat experience might not go over as well.
“I didn’t sleep for ... days,” said Hall County 911 Director Gail Lane.
Between about 8 p.m. Monday and 5 p.m. Wednesday last week, the 911 system lacked primary power as outages plagued the county.
County officials said failure of the generator would have been catastrophic.
“The 911 center is critical,” said Hall County Emergency Management Director David Kimbrell. “And just like everyone else, we are at the mercy of public utilities.”
Officials question why it took Georgia Power so long to restore power to the emergency services facility on Crescent Drive in Gainesville, where the 911 center is housed.
“... Being without primary power for that long a period of time is concerning,” said Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton. “This is the reason we test the generator and transfer switch every week. If inclement weather is expected, we fully fuel the generator and prepare for the possibility of a power outage.”
Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft told The Times that restoring power in large-scale outages is a matter of priorities, beginning with hospitals, water treatment stations, public safety agencies and other critical facilities.
Residential homes are the last to be addressed, and Georgia Power aims to restore power to the most homes and apartments in the quickest time possible.
In an ice storm like Hall County experienced last week, that means the smaller the neighborhood you live in, the longer you are likely to wait for power to be restored.
It’s not an exact process, Kraft said, and can change based on the conditions of a particular storm and damage assessments by line crews.
Kraft said when an entire grid is knocked out, simply restoring power to a single location, such as the emergency services facility, is not necessarily a fail-safe fix.
“A lot of different parts have to come together to make all of that work,” he added.
Lane said county and public safety officials will meet with representatives from Georgia Power later this week to express their concerns, as well as learn about how Georgia Power sets priorities on its response to outages.