Up to 40 percent of system servers may be ruined from fire retardant release

Two weeks after a firefighter inadvertently set off a fire suppression system that damaged sensitive electronics at the Columbia County Courthouse, county offices are continuing to work around downed computer systems and assess the situation.

County Commissioner Henry Heimuller said on Wednesday, Aug. 7, that he estimates the county’s operational capacity at between 80 and 90 percent, with some computers remaining offline.

“All departments are back up and running, to some degree, but maybe every computer in that department isn’t up and running,” said Heimuller. “So we’ve gone around and gotten a number of computers in each department up and running, you know, so that everybody’s back there sharing computers.”

The incident that caused county offices to close for a day occurred Friday, July 26, when Columbia River Fire and Rescue Division Chief Ron Youngberg pulled a fire alarm to evacuate the building while responding to reports of a foul odor.

Unbeknownst to Youngberg, the fire alarm he pulled was connected to a fire suppression system that released powdered fire retardant into the courthouse’s computer room. The powder spread throughout the building via the ventilation system.

County offices were closed the following Monday while contractors cleaned the building and electronic equipment.

Jean Ripa, human resources director for the county, said four out of 10 county servers may have to be replaced due to damage from the fire retardant, with at least one already having been deemed a total loss.

“We still have an amazing amount of equipment to replace, potentially,” Ripa said during a commissioners’ meeting Wednesday.

Neither Heimuller nor Ripa were able to offer an estimate for the damage. Heimuller said the county expects all of the damage to be covered under its insurance policy.

County data is regularly backed up, Ripa and county commissioners said, meaning the county has not experienced any data loss as a result of last month’s incident.

“We have a redundancy built in for issues just like this,” Commissioner Tony Hyde said.

It will take at least eight weeks for the county to fully recover from the damage, according to Ripa. She said that estimate is conservative, meaning the recovery could take longer.

For now, Ripa said, “The building is clean. It’s fully operational as the building. ... We are largely serving the public in what we could call a normal manner.”

Contractors could remain at the courthouse to finish up work on county and court office equipment into next week, Ripa added.

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