In light of Monday’s Luzerne County Courthouse bomb threat and other past building closures, county Manager C. David Pedri is setting up an employee emergency notification system, he told council members.
County Detective Chaz Balogh has been assigned to investigate the bomb threat, which prompted the evacuation of more than 200 workers and citizens and closed the courthouse on River Street in Wilkes-Barre, the nearby county annex, and the Bernard C. Brominski Building, Pedri said during an update at Tuesday’s council work session. No bomb was found.
County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said Wednesday the investigation remains ongoing.
The county employee text alerts will be set up through Swift911, an emergency notification system launched by the county Emergency Management Agency in 2016 using federal Homeland Security grant funding.
The idea of rounding up cell phone contact information for approximately 1,500 workers ended up on the back burner after prior building closures, but the frequency of events has convinced Pedri the move is warranted, he told council. Workers are informed of closures through email, but Pedri said some employees don’t have email on their phones.
“We’re continuing to learn from this,” he said. “We seem to be shutting down a building every few months.”
Since his May 2016 hiring as county manager, several emergencies have resulted in the closure of county buildings, except for the prison, EMA, 911 and other providers of emergency services:
• Water line breaks behind the courthouse forced a two-day closure in September 2016.
• Winter Storm Stella dumped 22.1 inches of snow on Wilkes-Barre in less than 24 hours in March 2017, prompting a one-day closure of county government buildings.
• Also in March 2017, the county Human Services building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Wilkes-Barre was closed for a day following a firebombing at the Children and Youth offices.
• During two other blizzards, buildings remained open but were staffed by essential personnel only, Pedri said.
The courthouse annex also closed in January 2016, when Pedri was acting manager, due to a water supply issue connected to a valve replacement on Jackson Street.
Pedri also noted a Susquehanna River ice jam in January caused flooding of low lying areas in West Pittston, Exeter and Duryea, although no county buildings were impacted.
“If anybody sees a locust, you’ve got to let me know because I’m getting a little nervous,” Pedri told council, referencing a biblical plague mentioned in the Book of Exodus.
County Children and Youth recently set up text alerts for its employees through Swift911, allowing the department to instantly inform these workers to stay away from the courthouse, annex and Brominski buildings on Monday.
Some municipalities also have accepted the county’s invitation to participate in the alert system, sending messages only to residents who have signed up within their jurisdictions.
Anyone living and working in the county can sign up to receive general emergency and weather alerts from county EMA through a link on the home page at www.luzernecounty.org or downloading the Swift911 public app on phones.
Participating citizens determine the types of alerts they want and how they want to receive them — telephone, text, email or social media.
Pedri praised county Sheriff Brian Szumski and emergency and law enforcement agencies that assisted with Monday’s bomb threat.
Councilman Robert Schnee asked if the county’s Penn Place building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Wilkes-Barre also was notified of the threat.
Pedri said officials reviewed the threat and concluded Penn Place did not have to be closed. The annex and Brominski building were evacuated as a precaution due to their proximity to the courthouse, he said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.