(Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 12--The security system at the Washington County Jail is so old that you can't update the software that runs it.
And as the equipment ages, officials have become increasingly worried about failure.
"It's a jail," Sheriff Bill Hutton said. "We have to have as secure a facility as possible. Not only for the inmates, but we want to make sure we have the most appropriate amount of security as well for the staff."
The system, which includes door controls and surveillance cameras, was installed when the jail was built in 1992.
Now the sheriff's office, with the help of the county's information technology and public works departments, is looking for an upgrade that could cost $1.5 million.
On Tuesday, the county board took a small step in that direction and agreed to pay $125,000 to bring in a consulting firm.
"The consultants will help us look at what we have, what we may need, and what our needs are going to be going forward," Chief Deputy Dan Starry said.
On average, the 228-bed jail houses 170 to 190 inmates with up to 16 officers overseeing operations, Hutton said.
The security system includes 138 cameras, which feed to closed-circuit televisions and use coaxial cables.
A new system would be data-based and would use the latest technology.
"We'll get some contemporary technology that we can control in different ways," said Mjyke Nelson, director of the county's information technology department. "The video system will be more flexible, probably more secure and definitely more reliable."
Nelson said breakdowns are the biggest concern, because it's getting difficult to repair and replace equipment.
"Currently we're in a state where the jail is OK -- it's not falling apart and people aren't going to be getting loose in the streets," Nelson said. "But we're getting to the point where (the security system) is so old we won't be able to get new parts. It's time to move to something more contemporary so it can be maintained another 20 years."
The consulting firm was selected for its experience working with similar facility security systems, Nelson said. He expects the analysis to get going within a month and to be completed in a few months.
After the analysis, county officials will have a better idea of what the new system would look like and how much it would cost.
The sheriff's office is hoping to have the overhaul completed within a year, Starry said.
Elizabeth Mohr can be reached at 651-228-5162. Follow her at twitter.com/LizMohr.
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