Lightning strike causes outages at Central Texas jail

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MERIDIAN, Texas (KWTX) Bosque County's new, state-of-the-art jail is having to turn back time after being struck by lightning.

(Photo by Brad Vaughn)

The tower at the Bosque County Law Enforcement Center was hit around 3pm Wednesday as storms blew through Central Texas, creating major outages at the facility.

"We were hit bad," said Sheriff Anthony Malott.

The strike left the phones, cameras, computers and more down.

"We lost a lot of the essentials we need to communicate with the outside world, 911 went down but immediately that was transferred to Hill County, which is our backup, and has since been restored," said Jail Administrator John Campbell.

The surge was strong enough to scorch and melt some of the communications equipment inside the jail, officials said.

"I wasn't here at the time, but they say it sounded like all the windows in the building blew out," said Campbell.

Without phones or internet, BCSO deputies are having to communicate with jail staff via handheld radios, and deputies are having to take suspects in for booking through a side door because the sally port isn't working.

"It's kind of old school," said Campbell.

Jail staff were trying to regroup Thursday, some like Campbell even had to cut their holiday vacations short to handle the emergency and try to get utility crews to respond.

He said their patience, and the inmates' patience, is being tested.

"We could possibly have problems (with the inmates), but we'll deal with that down the road, but I would like to avoid all that if I could get AT&T here," said Campbell.

A crew from NextLink, the internet provider for the inmates' phone and communications system, was on-site Thursday, however, they needed the AT&T server fixed first in order to get their services back up and running, Campbell said.

A technician for the cameras and door systems was supposed to come Thursday night; when the electronic doors stopped working Wednesday afternoon, the jail switched over to their old key system, locking the doors manually to ensure none of the 40 or so inmates got out.

"The staff reacted very well, immediately went down and checked, made sure all the inmates were where they were supposed to be," said Campbell.

The inmate commissary kiosk in the jail's lobby was also down, however, inmates' meals and laundry were not affected and weekend visitation will go on as scheduled, officials said.

While they never lost power, they still had their generator tested Thursday and "it is working if needed," Campbell said.

"And we still have fire systems," he said.

There was no timeline on when the jail would be back to normal, Campbell said, because it all depended on the service providers.

The new jail has only been open about six months.