Humboldt County declares local emergency after fires down communications systems

Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal (far right) and Department of Health and Human Services Director Connie Beck talk to the Board of Supervisors this morning in Eureka about how the fires burning throughout the state have downed county communications systems. – Will Houston — The Times-Standard

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors declared a local state of emergency this morning after the fires raging throughout the state knocked out communications systems for nearly all county departments.

“We’re at a bare bones level right now,” 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said. “You can’t even access the county [geographic information system] if you’re doing any kind of planning. They’re all off the table. It’s kind of a wake-up call.”

County Sheriff William Honsal and Department of Health and Human Services Director Connie Beck told the board that all of the county’s web and communication systems are down, affecting everything from application processing to the sheriff’s office non-emergency lines.

Honsal said that the 911 emergency system still is functioning, but that they are requesting wireless providers such as Verizon to set up local hotspots to aid communications. The emergency declaration will potentially open up relief from the state, Honsal said.

AT&T service is down throughout the county after fires in Mendocino County damaged power and communications towers, according to officials. This morning, AT&T’s media relations Director Leland Kim resent a previous statement the company issued last night about the expected restoration time.

“Our Network Disaster Recovery and local network teams are deploying a number of resources, including temporary cell sites to the area,” Kim wrote in an email to the Times-Standard this morning.

Honsal said the last his office had heard was that AT&T crews could get to the damaged broadband fiber line by this evening or within the next 48 hours.

A Humboldt County Superior Court Operations Manager Kelly Nyberg said that the court’s scheduling system is also down because of the fires. The court clerk’s office is manually filing and scheduling cases, Nyberg said, and they are physically walking case minutes over to the county jail because their internet access is down.

“We’re doing the best we can,” Nyberg said. “We have some manual processes in place.”

Court staff is also having to manually track court cases after the court’s online calendar was downed, Nyberg said.

The Board of Supervisors’ emergency declaration also revived a discussion on the need for broadband diversity and redundancy in the county.

“The reason that we’re in this position is because we don’t have that redundancy,” Fennell said.

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said Humboldt County’s problems pale in comparison to the issues neighboring counties are dealing with.

“We’ve all got friends that lost everything they own,” Bohn said.

Times-Standard reporter Sam Armanino contributed to this report. Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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