Ground faults causing Boyle jail doors to shut down

Published 6:31 am Saturday, September 15, 2018

The system that controls the doors inside the Boyle County jail has shut down twice in the past three weeks, meaning no doors can be opened without a master key until the system is rebooted.

Now, Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney plans to authorize emergency repairs to the doors.

“I’m willing to write that letter that says it’s an emergency, we’re going to bypass the normal procurement, because I do not want somebody locked in a cell out there that we can’t get to,” McKinney said during a Boyle-Mercer Joint Jail Committee meeting Friday.

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The aging jail building is settling and wires that control the doors are getting pushed and pinched in the process, jail Captain Chad Holderman said. That’s causing ground faults in the wiring, which cause the whole system to shut down. A ground fault can be triggered by something as small a vibration when a door closes, he said.

Chief Deputy Brian Wofford said the system has shut down “probably at least a dozen times” in the past 12 months. “It’s happened before, but it’s starting to happen more frequently.”

When the system shuts down, it becomes impossible to open any doors in the secured areas of the jail — unless you have a master key, Wofford explained.

By law, the master key is kept in Jailer Barry Harmon’s office; there’s also a master key in the control room, Holderman said. The jail has standard operating procedures in place for what to do when the system shuts down, but having to manually open doors with a master key slows response times and creates a host of issues, Wofford said.

“You could have a fire, you could have a medical emergency, a fight; you could have a deputy locked into a cell with inmates and no way to get out if something happened,” he said.

Fortunately — “thank goodness” — there have been no such emergencies during a system failure yet, Wofford said. “Usually we’ve been able to get it back up pretty quick.”

The most recent incident happened during a Boyle County Fiscal Court Jail Committee meeting that was being held at the jail last week. It took about half an hour to get the system back up that time, Holderman said. About seven to 10 days before that, the system shut down around 2 a.m. and it took two hours to get it running again, he said.

In order to fix the doors, the company that installed the system, Advanced Systems, will have to send a technician to Boyle County and check every single door in the jail for ground faults. The cost for that two-day job is anticipated to be $3,260, Holderman said. That’s the repair McKinney said he would authorize Friday; the other members of the Joint Jail Committee who were present — Boyle County Attorney Lynne Dean and Mercer County Attorney Ted Dean — were in agreement that the emergency repairs were needed right away.

Holderman said Advanced Systems cannot send a technician until sometime during the week of Sept. 24, so shutdowns will continue to be a possibility until then.

There’s a chance the ground faults aren’t occurring just in the wiring of the doors, but in the doors’ motors, Holderman said. If that’s the case, the cost to fix it is likely to go up significantly, Wofford said.

“I won’t even tell you how expensive the motors are,” Wofford said. “… It’s not cheap. That’s why we try to get on things that need fixing before they cause other problems.”